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Page last updated at 10:23 GMT, Monday, 5 May 2008 11:23 UK

Bangladesh companies in food move

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Bangladesh

Food queue in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Food queues have become longer as prices have gone up

Factory owners in Bangladesh have started distributing subsidised food to thousands of their lowest paid workers.

Recent price rises have forced many Bangladeshis to reduce the amount they eat each day.

There have been a series of protests at garment factories in recent weeks over the rising cost of living.

Bangladesh is suffering from its worst food crisis in years, after the cost of its staple food, rice, doubled in the past 12 months.

Cheaper

Bangladesh's garment factories are the mainstay of the economy .

An argument over food

They account for three quarters of the country's export earnings and brought in more than $9bn last year.

They make cheap clothes for many of the world's most famous brands and largest retail chains, such as Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour.

Despite competition from China and India, the industry here is growing.

Fears that food price rises could disrupt this growth have prompted one of the main trade organisations to start selling cheap food to its workers.

Fazlul Haq, the president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told me that they hope to help feed 200,000 people, out of a total workforce of about 800,000.

Each will receive four kgs of rice a week, for two-thirds of the market price. Similar government schemes have proved immensely popular, but the factory workers have not all been able to benefit from them as the government shops are only open during working hours.

It is estimated that most workers now spend about 70% of their earnings on food.

The minimum wage is $25 a month, while a kilogram of rice, which is enough to feed a family of four for one day, costs 50 cents.

Many Bangladeshis say they now no longer eat lunch and most can no longer afford to eat meat, fish or eggs.

But the government says that the situation will soon improve.

Farmers are beginning to harvest Bangladesh's main rice crop and the country has received some good news from the US which says it is to donate $40m in food aid.




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