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H&M urges wage raise in Asia

DHAKA -- Swedish fashion giant H&M, the world's second-largest clothing chain, has called for the Bangladesh government to raise wages at export factories that employ three million garment workers.

During a visit to Dhaka, H&M Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson inspected a factory where workers make clothes for the company on wages starting at US$37 a month — a figure that often triggers violent strikes.

“We want the workers to be treated in a good way. Being a responsible company, we see low wages in the industry is a major point that is close to our heart and a major concern,” Persson told reporters on Tuesday evening.

“We demand that the Bangladeshi government increase minimum wages and consider yearly wage reviews for the workers,” he said after visiting a plant and meeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh garment exports were worth US$19 billion last year, or 80 percent of total national shipments, and the sector is the mainstay of the country's economy, employing 40 percent of its industrial workforce.

The export business relies on low labor costs but is plagued by frequent unrest over demands for better wages, which are set by the government after consultations with factory owners and trade unions.

In June, more than 300 factories that make clothes for brands including H&M, Wal-Mart and Gap were shut down for over a week as tens of thousands of workers rioted over low wages, complaining of rising rent and food costs.

At least 100 people were injured in the clashes and dozens of plants were damaged.

Factory owners rejected the demands, saying the minimum wage had risen 80 percent in two years and that further increases would threaten their survival.

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