Farhad Mahmud: Understanding the Politico-economy of Professor Yunus (as applied to the garment industry)

Yunusnomics 101: Understanding the Politico-economy of Professor Yunus (as applied to the garment industry)
by Farhad Mahmud for AlalODulal.org
A few weeks ago, right after Professor Yunus set out his suggestions for the garment industry, I sent an email around to my friends at home and abroad, seeking a few answers and a little bit of clarification, on some of the specific proposals Professor Yunus had put forward. Much to my disappointment, only one person had come up with a reply, raising more questions than answers.
Posting the text of the original email on Alal O Dulal seeking answers and inviting readers to engage in a timely and important discourse:
Subject:  a few questions, seek answers
From: an economics graduate
No criticism please. Only explanations supporting the suggestions are expected.  Please provide your answers separately on the individual points, rather than a general reply. Please reply to any number of points you wish to:
1. “My proposal is that the foreign buyers will jointly fix a minimum international wage level. For example, if the minimum wage is now 25 cents per hour in Bangladesh, then they will standardise minimum wage for garment industry as 50 cents per hour. No buyer will give any salary below this rate, and no industry/owner will fix salary below this limit. It would be an integral part of compliance”.
Question. Does he mean the government abdicate its responsibility to foreign buyers in fixing minimum wages in Bangladesh ? How will they ‘give’ salary to our workers ?
2. “We have to gain support for the international minimum wage through discussions with politicians, business leaders, citizens, church groups, and media leaders in the countries of the foreign buyers. In the past, I had tried to convince the buyers, but have not yet succeeded”.
Q. If he doesn’t mean an ‘uniform’ international minimum wage this already exists, and if he does, what happens to the adjustments with cost of living index and purchasing power parity (assuming this is what is done internationally when fixing minimum wages in different countries) ? 
3. “In the past, I had tried to convince the buyers, but have not yet succeeded. Now after the Savar tragedy, and in light of the castigation from the Pope, the issue has gained a new dimension. I want to mobilise my international and Bangladeshi friends to make my efforts stronger and more persistent this time”.
Q. Does he mean because the moral compass lie in the West it is their responsibility to solve the problem ? What will be the role of Bangladeshi factory owners in all this ?
4. “We have to get the international business houses to understand that while the garment workers are physically working in Bangladesh, they are actually contributing their labour for their (international business houses) businesses. They are stakeholders of their businesses. Their business depends on the labour here. Mere physical separation should not be a ground for them to look away from the well-beings of this labour”.
Q. They should take care of our workers and not our factory owners (or perhaps along with our factory owners)? Why will they do this in our case if they haven’t done so in any other low labour cost country from where they regularly source their products ?
5. “We would give them a good marketing tool to make this product more attractive to the buyers by making the consumers feel they are getting more for this extra 50 cents. We would put a special tag on each piece of clothing to make them “special.” The tag would say: “From the happy workers of Bangladesh, with pleasure.” Workers’ well-being is managed by Grameen or Brac or any other internationally reputed organisation. There would be a beautiful logo that would go with it. This would immediately convey the message that the dress has been made with a lot of warmth and happiness by the factory workers in Bangladesh”.
Q. ‘Will simplistic labels (“ethical,” “green”) that ascribe products with a magical quality and absolve us from culpability’ ?
6. ” Savar is the creation of our dysfunctional politics. When we watched more than 600 helpless deaths, the loss of limbs of hundreds on our TV screen throughout the country, it made us aware of where our dysfunctional politics has led us to”.
Q. Is that where all the blame lie; our business sector conveniently exempt from it ?
Prof Yunus’s full text available at the link below:


  1. Professor Yunus’ suggestions may sound oversimplistic or too ambiguous and appeared to have raised more questions than answers as is discernible from above but at least they provide some framework for thoughts and consideration to a burning issue that brought great pains at home in one hand and international ignominy on the other. Can we not think positively and productively ?

  2. @Ashraf. Of course we can. This is the purpose of the post. Although yours is not a specific explanation, we can start with explaining what is his ‘framework for thoughts and consideration to a burning issue’ with some degree of clarity if you would like to attempt it. Also, dismissing his suggestions as ‘oversimplistic or too ambiguous’ may not be the right thing to do as he is no ordinary person. He deserves to be taken seriously and at the same time not ‘humoured’ simply because of his fame. We could also try to throw some light on what he meant by “minimum international wage level”, and/or at least his explanation of the term ‘international’ as applied to ‘minimum wage’ which is central to his set of suggestions.

  3. To be honest, I’m very confused by Professor Yunus these days and am not sure what he stands for or what his agenda is. And Im a big fan of his!

    He needs to state what his desires are for this final phase of his career. Does his legacy stop with micro-finance, for which he has milked credit for several years, or does he have something else even more substantive to offer the people of Bangladesh?

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