Twenty Western garment retailers have expressed concern over the recent labour unrest in Ashulia and called upon the government to form a new wage board for workers.
The buyers in a letter to the prime minister said the unrest may damage Bangladesh's reputation as a reliable sourcing market.
The major signatories in the joint letter sent last week are: H&M, C&A, Esprit, Gap, Next, VF Corporation, Primark, Inditex and Li&Fung.
The retailers, who account for half of Bangladesh's total garment exports of about $28 billion in a year, suggested that the root cause of the unrest should be addressed through social dialogue.
The retailers suggested the increased costs of living in Bangladesh might have contributed to the unrest and have subsequently urged the government to adopt a regular wage review mechanism.
“This would help create stability in the Bangladeshi garment sector.”
Last month, more than 1,600 workers from a number of factories in Ashulia, known as a hub of about 350 of the most compliant garment units, were suspended for their alleged involvement in demonstrations over pay hike. The workers demanded that the minimum salary be increased to Tk 15,000 a month from Tk 5,300 now.
While the brands made it clear they do not support any illegal strikes or violent protests, they expressed concern over the detention of union leaders during the unrest.
The retailers requested the government to take steps to safeguard worker rights and pay special attention to the representatives of workers who were arrested.
“H&M Group is deeply concerned by the recent unrest in the Bangladeshi textile industry,” the Swedish retailer said in the joint note that was also posted on the company's website.
“Our staff members in Dhaka are monitoring the situation and are in close contact with our suppliers, industry associations, trade unions and other buyers.” For H&M Group it is important that its products are manufactured under good working conditions, in all production countries, it added.
Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said he also received a letter from the retailers. “The letter expressed concern over the unrest,” he said.
The last time the wage board was revised was in 2013.
The Ashulia-based factories contributed about 20 percent to Bangladesh's total garment exports last fiscal year, according to industry insiders.