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NLC report alleges severe exploitation

New Age  |  May 13, 2009  |  Share  |  Source article

By Nazrul Islam and Kazi Azizul Islam


An international labour rights group has dug up chilling stories of exploitation of workers in a large Bangladeshi garment factory where overwork caused the death of a teenage female worker in December 2008.
An investigation conducted by the National Labour Committee, the US-based anti-sweatshop organisation, reveals a 'medieval-style slavery and deprivation' of workers in the Chittagong-based RL Denim Limited that produces jeans for leading international retailers, including Metro Group of Germany.
The NLC report titled 'Is a Bargain on a Pair of Jeans Worth a Young Woman's Life? President Obama Thinks Not,' was released globally on World Mother's Day on Sunday.
The report has also sought to draw attention of the Obama administration as the United States is the largest importer of Bangladeshi garments.
Bibi Kulsum Fatema, an 18-year old RL sewing helper, fainted due to overwork at her workplace and died after she was taken to a nearby hospital, according to the report.
The report contains as an annexe an application the girl's father had submitted to the labour ministry seeking justice and compensation. The ministry is learnt to have forwarded the letter to the factory management which did not pay any heed.
'Everyday she worked 13-15 hours at a stretch.  One day she was so exhausted that she fell sick for ten days,' Fatema's mother told NLC investigators led by Charles Kernaghan, who along with Bangladeshi right actors interviewed dozens of factory workers and others concerned to prepare the report.
Fatema had repeatedly begged her supervisor, Monir, for a day off as she [Fatema] had been suffering from dysentery in early December, Fatema's parents told the investigators.
Fatema sought leave, but the supervisor slapped her and she was so exhausted that she fainted on the floor that day and died after being taken to the hospital, alleged co-workers and her mother.
She was not taken to a hospital immediately as she fainted on the factory floor in the morning of December 7. She was left unconscious on the floor until the evening. As the co-workers demanded, Fatima was taken to nearby Al-Amin Hospital where the physicians declared her dead, NLC investigators were told by the workers.
Fatema's Father Abdul Khalek on January 29, 2009 had sought Tk 300,000 as compensation for the death of his daughter and sought her legal life insurance due of Tk 100,000.
Khaleq's letter was forwarded to RL administration but dues remain unpaid.
The report said that many workers informed the investigators that another seventeen-year-old worker who had collapsed on the factory floor was kicked by the factory manager and many workers are often beaten and forced to 20-hour shifts.
The workers have limited access to bathroom inside the factory. They are allowed two or at most three times a day to use the restroom provided they are permitted by the supervisor, added the report.
Another 21-year old worker, whose name is also Fatema, told NLC investigators that after working six years in the factory she was asked to leave the factory in July 2008, without maternity leave although she was pregnant at that time.
The workers alleged that the factory fans are often kept switched off in the name of saving energy bills, speaking is strictly prohibited during working hours and they take lunch either on the crowded stairs or on the rooftop.
RK Dutta, the chairman of Jeans Express Limited the parent company RL Denim, termed initially the NLC report as, 'A piece of yellow journalism.'
But as he was clarified that the report was by a fact finding mission of the influential US-based labour rights group, Dutta referred RL managing director Asish Das to comment on.
Ashis Das admitted the death of the factory worker. But he said Fatima was not under the coverage of insurance claim as she started the job only three weeks before the incident.
'We paid her family a small amount to bear the cost of Fatima's funeral ritual,' the managing director said adding Fatima got sick in the morning and factory officials told her to go home but she stayed there to have her half month's salaries as that was the payment day. He, however, denied any abuses of workers.
The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturer and Exporters Association president Abdus Salam Murshedy claimed that his organisation had devoted in implementation of labour rights and compliances in its member factories so such a report disappointed him.
'The BGMEA will reinvestigate the alleged abuse on the workers and ensure compensation of Fatema, he assured.


Return to NLC report

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