Alerts Web feed icon

Testimony of Robina

September 26, 2004  |  Share

Robina is 18 years old and has been working as a sewing operator in the garment factories for the past two years sewing clothing for Wal-Mart and other U.S. companies. She was fired from the last factory she worked at after she was seen attending a meeting with people from the U.S.

Robina earns 1,700 taka a month, which comes to $6.75 a week and just 14 cents an hour. In the last month, Robina has been forced to work four 19-hour all-night shifts from 8:00 a.m. straight through to 3:00 a.m., after which the workers slept on the factory floor. Her typical work shift is from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., six or seven days a week.

Robina never had the chance to go to school, but with help from her friends, she has learned to sign her name. She lives with seven other people in a single room, sleeping on the floor. Typically she gets just five hours of sleep a night.

Robina works 12 to 14 hours a day sewing clothing for the largest company in the world, and yet her wages are so low she cannot even afford to purchase a toothbrush and toothpaste, and must clean her teeth with her finger, using ashes from the fire.

Click here to read the testimonies of Maksuda and Sknazma, two other Bangladeshi workers.

Click here to read more about the 2004 NLC Bangladesh worker tour.

My name is Robina Akther.

I'm about 18 years old. We don't have birth certificates in Bangladesh, so I don't know the exact day I was born.

Two years ago I went to work at the Western Dresses factory in Dhaka. I entered as a helper and my job was to measure and mark with chalk the location where the back pocket was to be sewn on the pants.

I had to do 120 to 150 pieces an hour. After just 7 days of working, the line chief attacked me, slapping my face very hard. My nose was bleeding. I was so frightened I was crying and half fainted. He slapped me four times, screaming that I was not making my target. I was beaten like that four times in the first six months. If the chalk marks weren't straight or if you weren't working fast enough, they hit you.

I worked from 8:00 in the morning till 10:00 or 11:00 at night, although I really had to be at work at 7:45 a.m. to clean the factory. I worked everyday. The factory never shuts down. In the first six months I did not have a single day off. When we work until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., the factory gives us a snack at 7:45 p.m. of a small banana and a biscuit. It is worth about 4 to 5 taka. I got paid 900 taka a month [$15.18; 7 cents an hour).

After six months I became a junior sewing operator. My job was to sew the flaps on the back pockets of these pants. I had to sew 120 pieces an hour. It was difficult to reach. If you made any mistakes or fell behind on your goal, they beat you. They slapped you and lashed you hard on the face with the pants. This happens very often. They hit you hard. It is no joke.

Before shipments go out, I have to work 7 or 8 nights a month, from 8:00 in the morning till 3:00 a.m. Not everyone on the factory has to stay. Generally, it is the young junior sewing operators who have a hard time completing these targets. When we work till 3:00 a.m., they give us a break from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. Sometimes we even have to work straight through to 7:00 in the morning.

When we finish at 3:00 a.m. we sleep in the factory. We lay our heads on our sewing tables and go to sleep sitting there. The factory floors are too dirty to lie down. In a year I get less than 10 days off. As a junior operator I get paid 1600 taka a month ($26.98; 13 cents an hour). We are forced to work 5 or 6 hours of overtime a night, but they cheat us of our proper overtime pay.

In our factory you are not allowed to talk. If the supervisors even see you move your lips or make a gesture to a friend, they cut your overtime pay as punishment. We work sitting on hard wooden stools with no backs or arm rests. But if you even stand up to stretch, they cut your overtime pay.

We are not allowed to drink water while we are working. But some of us try to sneak in little bottles of water. If the supervisors catch us drinking, they take the bottle away. If they see a drop of water on the table or the garment, they hit you and cut your overtime pay.

It is the same with the bathrooms. You need a toilet pass, and permission is given just 2 or 3 times in the day. The bathrooms are filthy with no toilet paper or soap. And if you spend too long there, they dock your overtime pay. The factory is very hot, and some days my whole dress is wet with sweat.

Sometimes foreign buyers come to the factory, and they talk with some workers, but it is always in the presence of management. Everyone knows that if we spoke the truth, we could be beaten and kicked out without our severance pay or back wages.

When workers reach 30 or 35, the factory forces them to leave, telling them they have to quit. Eighty percent of the workers are women 16 to 20 years of age. The minute the older women have trouble with their eyesight, they are forced out. In Western Dresses they don't pay the legal maternity benefits, so the pregnant women have to leave with nothing.

Other than the three dresses I wear, I own nothing, not even a cup or a plate. I live in one room with eight people. Five people sleep in the bed and three on the floor. Among us is a couple, which makes me feel very shy. The bed is just a wooden platform without a mattress. The tin roof over our room leaks. So if it rains at night, we have to put out bowls to collect the water. We have to sit up and cover ourselves with plastic until the rain stops. 36 people share one water pump, an outhouse, and two gas burners for cooking. I clean my teeth with my finger, using ash. I can't afford a toothbrush or toothpaste. Lots of other garment workers are like me.

I go to work with no money, so I have to walk 25 minutes each way. As I cannot afford an umbrella, when it rains I get soaking wet, and have to work like that, with my dress all wet. It makes you feel miserable.

I mostly eat rice, potato and mashed radish, and also lentils and some vegetables, and I only drink water.  I have never been to a cinema hall. I have never ridden a bike and I cannot afford a TV or radio. I have no relaxation in my life. No fun, or amusement. I never go out with my friends. We live only to work. Even living like this, I still have to borrow 400 taka a month to survive.

If I could get one day off a week, I could rest with a deep slumber.

I had to take off Friday, April 23. Fridays are supposed to be our day off. I came in and worked all day Saturday, April 24 till 10:00 p.m., but the supervisor docked me for both Friday and Saturday. I asked the supervisor why he did this, why he marked me absent when I worked on Saturday, and he responded, "Is this factory owned by your father?" Then he fired me, cursing very filthy words at me.

I never had a chance to go to school. When I was small I can remember going for just a few days. We were too poor for me to continue.

I never knew where the clothing I sewed was going. Surely I never dreamed that I would ever have the chance to come to the United States. But here I am. The other day we went into a Wal-Mart store and I found the clothes that my coworkers and I sewed.

Please help us win our rights. Thank you for hearing my story.

Videos »

Our site uses the YouTube player, which requires that your browser be able to play Adobe Flash objects.

If you are seeing this message on an Apple iPhone, you can view this video on the YouTube site, which will launch the iPhone YouTube player.