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Sweatshop protesters hit Michigan Avenue

Chicago Tribune  |  October 5, 2002  |  Share  |  Source article

By Thom Khanje

Published: Oct 5, 2002

A campaign to improve working conditions and pay at garment shops in developing countries hit Michigan Avenue on Friday.

Students from Loyola University in Chicago joined three former Bangladesh garment factory workers and labor rights activists in a demonstration at the Disney Store at 717 N. Michigan Ave.

The campaign, dubbed "No More Sweatshops," is sponsored by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based labor rights organization.

The group hopes to raise awareness among consumers about working conditions in Bangladesh.

About 1.7 million Bangladeshis work in factories that produce clothing for several retail chains, including the Disney Store and Wal-Mart Stores, according to the group.

"The supervisor tells us we have to meet targets for Wal-Mart. If we fail to produce enough pieces as required per hour, they beat us and cut our wages," said Mahamuda Akter, 18. Akter said she worked in a garment factory in her home town of Chittagong.

Like many other garment workers in her country, Akter said, she started working at 13. Her elderly parents could not afford schooling and needed her financial support.

Akter typically worked 17 hours a day, 7 days a week at the garment factories and was paid less than $3 a day, she said. Factory owners prohibited sick days, vacations or a day off to celebrate national holidays.

Representatives of Walt Disney Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said they are aware of the working conditions in some overseas clothing factories and have certain requirements applied to suppliers that do business with them.

"We try our best but this is a very complex issue," said Gary Foster, a spokesman for Disney. "However, where operators of a particular facility do not comply, we will terminate our authorization for use of the factory."

Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz said activists were bent on accusing the company of wrongdoing regardless of its efforts to address the problem.

"This is a difficult international problem and we are doing our part to improve the situation," he said.

Wertz said Wal-Mart routinely inspects factories in developing countries, up to 300 a week.

But Akter said her employers require her to fill out two job cards, one real and one to show customers of the garment factory.

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