Despite Bangladesh’s relatively weak international recognition as a major garment manufacturer and exporter, it is in fact one of the world’s largest garment manufacturers, being only second to China. As a result, Bangladesh’s economy has been consistently improving. The economic growth, however, has come with many sacrifices and hardships for the Bangladeshi workers.
Recently, The Asia Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the development of a prosperous and just Asia-Pacific region, gave readers an insight into the sacrifices that workers have made in order to aid in Bangladesh’s continuous rise to a middle income country. Thanks to Alma Freeman’s on-field research for the organization, readers discovered that nearly half a million people are employed in about 4,500 garment factories. The industry makes up “…80 percent of the country’s export earnings and employs over 3.6 million people…” and has therefore played a key role in the country’s economic boost. However, as Freeman points out, it is Bangladesh’s low wages that has allowed it to have consistent economic growth.
Many of the workers earn and live off an average of $40-$50 per month and have a family to support. One of the families highlighted lives in “…a one-room basti (slum), and share a communal toilet and cooking area”. These garment factories provide a working sector that allows individuals to make a living that would be difficult to make elsewhere but the earnings are still limited and many families find themselves needing the help of their children to contribute to the families’ income. These children are forced to leave school, such as the School of Hope, which, with the funds of Wal-Mart, provides subsidized education for the children of factory workers.
The School of Hope has already tried to convince several parents to keep their children in school and stress the importance of an education in creating a better future for their children. Many families try to follow this advice, but are still tempted to pull their children out of school in order to make ends meet.
An education is the price these workers make in order to put their country on the economic map, and we have to wonder, is this really the best path for the future of Bangladesh?