NLC Letter to the Metro Group

May 11, 2009

May 9, 2009

Dr. Eckhard Cordes
Chairman of the Management Board and CEO
Metro Group
Schlüterstrasse 1
40235 Düsseldorf

Dear Dr. Cordes:

I write on a matter of extreme urgency to request your assistance and immediate intervention with one of your contractors in Bangladesh, R.L. Denim/Jeans Express Limited, where the most basic legal rights of the mostly young women workers are being grossly and systematically violated on a daily basis. 

The R.L. Denim factory in Chittagong sews the Authentic, Youkon and TiP labels for the Metro Group.  Some of your labels have been at the factory for over a year, and it appears that Metro Group garments account for 80 percent or more of total factory production.

At the R.L. Denim factory, every labor law in Bangladesh is being violated—as are the International Labour Organization's internationally recognized worker rights standards.  One young 18-year-old worker, Ms. Bibi Kulsum Fatema (Card # 532), who was ill and begged for sick leave, was instead slapped by her supervisor and forced to continue working.  Ms. Fatema collapsed on the factory floor, and was declared dead two or so hours later, on December 7, 2008.

Pregnant women are routinely denied their right to maternity leave with full pay.  In fact, we do not know of a single instance when maternity leave rights have been respected at the R.L. Denim plant.  A 17-year-old boy who was ill and passed out on the factory floor was reportedly kicked by the factory manager.  All overtime is obligatory.  Twelve to 14-hour shifts are the norm, often seven days a week with just one or two days off a month.  There are also 20-hour, all-night shifts, from 8:00 a.m. straight through to 4:00 a.m. the following morning, before clothing shipments must leave for the Metro Group.  R.L. Denim workers earn just 11 ½ to 17 cents (U.S.) an hour and report they are routinely shortchanged on their legal overtime pay.  The factory keeps two sets of timecards, a doctored one to show corporate monitors and a real one which more or less accurately tracks the hours actually worked.  Workers report that they are routinely cursed at, slapped and even kicked by supervisors.

That's the bad news.  The good news is that the Metro Group has the power to work with your contractor, R.L. Denim, to clean up the factory and implement concrete changes so that the legal rights of the workers are finally respected.

The very worst thing Metro Group could do would be to "cut and run," pulling your work from the R.L. Denim factory, since this would only further punish the workers, who have already suffered enough.  It is not acceptable for Metro Group to pull your work out of R.L. Denim or other Jeans Express factories.  Metro Group's current level of production must remain the same as you work with your contractor, R.L. Denim/Jeans Express, to improve conditions and bring the factories into full compliance with Bangladesh's labor laws and the ILO's core labor rights standards.

I must also urge that you immediately and strongly instruct R.L. Denim management that Metro Group will not under any circumstance tolerate retaliation targeting workers suspected of speaking truthfully regarding the sweatshop conditions at the factory.  Workers are already being threatened.

You should also know that the R.L. Denim factory was open on Friday, May 8, and that some workers in the finishing section were kept to 8:30 p.m.  Friday is supposed to be the workers' weekly day off.

I am attaching a list of critical steps that the Bangladeshi workers, local Bangladeshi women's and labor rights organizations and the National Labor Committee expect Metro Group to take. 
You can access the NLC's full report at:

Our hope is that through Metro Group's intervention the R.L. Denim plant could become a model factory—which would be a win-win situation for the workers, European consumers, the R.L. Denim factory and Metro Group.

R.L. Denim management was notified ahead of time that a corporate audit would take place today, Saturday, May 9.  The young workers were told not to come to the factory.  Management is racing to arrange for purified drinking water, and the factory is being cleaned.  As is the norm, workers have been instructed to lie to the auditors.  Some workers have been threatened and some of the young women, especially, are frightened.  Under such circumstances, this most recent corporate audit will also be seriously flawed.

In light of the above, I have a serious proposal to you.  If Metro Group guarantees that there will be no retaliation against any R.L. Denim worker who speaks truthfully about factory conditions over the last year, we are our colleagues on the ground in Bangladesh could bring together at least 100 workers to participate in a meeting with you and your staff.  This way you could be assured of learning the truth.

The National Labor Committee will work together with you in any way we can, including travelling to Bangladesh to meet with R.L. Denim/Jeans Express management. 

I want to thank you in advance for the serious attention you give this urgent matter.  You or your staff can contact me any time via email ([email protected]) or cell phone (412-417-9384) or in our office at the above phone and fax.


Charles Kernaghan


CC:    Hannes Floto, Managing Director, Makro Cash & Carry

Return to the report