Garment workers took to the streets to complain that a government proposal to increase the minimum wage from £15.50 a month to £28 was insufficient.
Charities say Bangladesh has become more attractive as labour costs in China have risen. Bangladeshi workers are seeking a ‘living wage’ of about £45 a month, about half the Chinese minimum imposed earlier this year.
They also want an agreed system for minimum pay throughout Asia to prevent companies relocating to cheaper areas as labour costs rise.
‘Companies such as Tesco and Asda buy clothes in such large quantities that they would be able to make a difference,’ said a spokeswoman for pressure group Labour Behind the Label.
‘We are not talking about a huge amount and it means only a few pence per garment to consumers.’
Britain imported clothing worth £864 million from Bangladesh in 2009, an increase of 23 per cent on the previous year.
Tesco said: ‘Average wages in our suppliers’ factories are significantly above the minimum.’ Asda said it had worked with Bangladeshi factories to improve techniques and cut waste. The resulting rise in productivity had cut the working week and boosted wages. A spokeswoman said: ‘It is a small step in the right direction.’