Early this month, a couple of potential trailblazer stories passed through the radar causing little ripple effect on the optics, let alone on the mind! Coming from reputed and authentic international sources, however, we cannot let them pass into oblivion.
According to the UNDP's Human Development Report, 2016, Bangladeshi women earn more than their Indian and Pakistani counterparts. In comparison with the Indian and Pakistani women-based on purchasing power parity (PPP)-Bangladeshi women earn eight per cent and 50 per cent more than the former respectively.
The average annual incomes of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women stand at US$ 2,184, US$1,498, and US$ 2,379-in that order.
It is also stated in the UNDP report that Bangladeshi women are ahead in terms of earnings largely because they are employed in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. While this is true, an add-on to the overall figure of earning comes from this statistic: Out of every 100 Bangladeshi women workers, 58 work in informal, self-employed, sector.
In contrast, 80 per cent women in India and above 63 per cent in Pakistan are employed in informal sectors. Such comparisons render the higher average income of Bangladeshi women from both formal and informal sectors taken together more praiseworthy and inspiring.
Then you have a contrarian, if not a contradictory, perception. This is thrown up by a research report from OXFAM-Australia. Focused on RMG sector, the findings reveal that in proportion to the sale price of an apparel product, Bangladeshi worker receives a pittance as wage. The wage of a Bangladeshi worker per hour is 39 cents as compared with Vietnam's 64 cents and China's 93 cents (as per Australian dollar).The comparison reads starker when one takes into account the world average of wage ratio to sale price at four per cent which itself is abysmal; yet for Bangladeshi worker it is a measly two per cent!
The OXFAM-Australia, an international charity organisation, points out the hurtful deprivation of the workers by whose sweat of their brow the big apparel industries are getting exponentially richer-without compunction. This is just not an ethical question but involves a pragmatic consideration for a sustainable upkeep of the golden goose.
The Report itself is suggestive of a perfectly remedial approach. If the Australian companies were to just increase the price by one per cent, the standard of living for the worker would be significantly raised. A T-shirt at 10 dollar should fetch 10 cents to the worker enabling her to spend for health care, education and household welfare.
Eighty per cent of the garment employees are aged 18-25 who are toiling at the prime of their lives for the sake of clothing people with Denim or other brand names. Now it's high time countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Bangladesh who are enjoying the garment prosperity like low-lying fruits, let the workers have a fair share by reducing their profit margin just a bit. That, without compromising competitiveness of prices.
Let's face facts, the forcing down of workers' wages is attributed to alleged collusion between foreign brand names and local owners and manufacturers. There is a degree of trading and apportioning of blame between the two sides, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) vice-president Mohammad Nasir blamed the poor wage on foreign brands being insistent on cheaper deals. But the local manufacturers and exporters too have a lever to press against unfair price dictation by buyers. For, it could ultimately prick the conscience of the consumers in the same way that lack worker security had enraged them earlier on.
The simple solution to an apparently intractable wage problem lies in treating wage as a proportion of sale price as a compliance issue like in the case of factory or worker safety-just for once paying the brand names back in their own coins! In business inclusive approach is infinitely better than a holier-than-thou mindset.