Message to Geldof from Bangladesh: UK aid is promoting sweatshops

Message to Geldof from Bangladesh: UK aid is promoting sweatshops

Date: 12 November 2012

A Bangladeshi human rights worker has written an open letter to Bob Geldof ahead of a meeting tomorrow between the rock star and the UK international development secretary, Justine Greening, telling him that UK aid money is promoting sweatshops in Bangladesh.

Human rights worker Khorshed Alam says in the letter:

I am writing to tell you that UK aid money is being used to set up ‘special economic zones’ in Bangladesh. In zones that already exist, multinational companies pay workers less than £1 a day, trade unions are not allowed to function properly, and police crush protests with rubber bullets.

This kind of ‘aid’ is not helping the poor.  It is only helping the multinational companies.

Companies like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, H&M and Gap all have factories in existing zones in my country. They provide jobs for local people, but at a cost of sweatshop-style working conditions.

Mr Geldof, I ask you to not promote economic development at the expense of human rights and basic needs. Please use your meeting with Justine Greening to support better provision of public services that meet the needs of the poorest, not the balance sheets of big business.”

The UK government is increasingly directing aid money to big businesses. Last Friday, Justine Greening announced that UK aid to India would include ‘investments in private sector projects designed to help the poor while generating a return’. The World Development Movement has criticised this approach, and is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the role of the private sector in international aid.

Liz Murray, aid campaigner at the World Development Movement, said today:

Promoting the interests of multinational companies does not help the world’s poorest people gain more control over their lives. In fact, as in the case of the Bangladeshi sweatshops, it can lock them into poverty and take away their rights. The UK government must ensure that aid is about creating a fairer world and improving the lives of the poorest, not a business opportunity.

Read the letter 

Read the World Development Movement’s briefing ‘Profits from poverty: How big business is cashing in on aid’