Third from left, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus poses with, from left, Rushanara Ali MP (Labour), vice-chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group for Bangladesh; Baroness Uddin (Labour), member; Pauline Latham OBE MP (Conservative), chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group for UN Women; and Baroness Hussein Ece OBE (Liberal Democrat), secretary; at a meeting to discuss measures to improve and strengthen the garments industry in Bangladesh and protect the right of women workers. Photo: Yunus Centre
Nobel Peace Prize winner Prof Muhammad Yunus has called for an international minimum wage for garment factory workers to shield them from exploitation.
In an interview with the BBC Bangla Service yesterday, the founder of Nobel Peace Prize winner Grameen Bank said the minimum wage could be applied in all garment-producing countries.
"Everybody has to have the same minimum wage. Bangladesh will have the international minimum wage. Burma and Cambodia will have the international minimum wage."
Prof Yunus said it has to be done "as we have all agreed that the workers will no longer be allowed to be exploited".
"You may say that for a poor person in Bangladesh one US dollar is too much. I understand that. But why does a buyer from a western country want to exploit a woman from a rural village?" he said.
His comments came after the Rana Plaza disaster in Savar last month that left over 1,127 people dead, mostly garment factory workers. It was the worst-ever industrial disaster in the country's history and it prompted the government to announce an initiative to look into raising the minimum wage.
Prof Yunus also said he did not think that Bangladesh would lose its competitiveness in the readymade garment sector with the rise of the minimum wage.
"Even after the 50-cent wage per hour, Bangladesh will still be cheaper [to make garments from]. There are not too many countries with the 50-cent per hour minimum wage."
Garment workers in Bangladesh are some of the lowest paid in the world, with per-hour minimum wage between 15 cents and 20 cents.
Prof Yunus said even new players in the global garment sector should provide workers with the same wage.
"If Burma makes a foray into the sector as a new player, their workers will have to be given the 50-cent wage. You cannot exploit them by giving them 10 cents or 20 cents under the pretence that they are a new country.
"These countries are part of the global economy. You cannot judge them with the yardstick of the local economy," he said.