Reports

May 4, 2009  |  Download PDF

Metro Group Linked to Horrific Sweatshop Conditions in Bangladesh



-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Is a Bargain on a Pair of Jeans Worth a Young Woman's Life?

President Obama Thinks Not

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Metro Group, the world’s third largest retailer, is linked to horrific sweatshop conditions in Bangladesh.

 

  • Eighteen-year-old woman overworked to death;

  • Seventeen-year-old who collapsed on the shop floor kicked by manager;

  • Beatings and forced 20-hour shifts common;

  • Women asking for their legal right to maternity leave are kicked out of the factory without a cent.

  • Metro’s clothing is sold in Germany, the United Kingdom and across Europe.



May 2009

National Labor Committee

5 Gateway Center, 6th Floor,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Phone:  412-562-2406   |   [email protected]   |   www.nlcnet.org   |   Fax:  412-456-2411

 

 

-------------------------------------
Executive Summary
-------------------------------------

The world's third largest retailer, Metro Group-with outlets across Europe-is linked to horrific sweatshop abuses in Bangladesh.

At the R.L. Denim factory, 650 mostly young women workers are routinely beaten, denied maternity leave and forced to work grueling hours while being shortchanged of their wages.  Every single labor law in Bangladesh is violated at the factory.

  • Eighteen-year-old Fatima was sick, exhausted and overworked to death on December 7, 2008.  When Fatima begged to be allowed to go home, her supervisor slapped her face.  Fatima was paid 11 ½ U.S. cents an hour, 93 cents a day.

 

  • When 17-year-old Yasin collapsed unconscious on the factory floor, the plant manager violently kicked him.

 

  • Pregnant women who plead for their legal right to maternity leave with pay are thrown out of the factory without a cent.

 

  • All overtime is obligatory, and workers are routinely at the factory 90 hours a week, forced to work 12 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with just one day off a month.  There are frequent all-night, 20-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. the following morning before clothing shipments must leave for Europe.

 

  • Sewing helpers are paid just 11 ½ cents U.S. an hour, 93 cents a day, $5.60 (U.S.) a week.  Even senior sewers earn below subsistence level wages of 14.4 to 17 cents an hour and $1.15 to $1.38 (U.S.) a day.  Workers and their families are trapped in abject misery.  Workers are cheated of at least 30 percent of the overtime wages due them.

 

  • Workers are paid 13 cents for each pair of jeans they sew.

 

  • Workers who fail to meet their assigned production goals—for example, sewing up to 360 belt loops per hour—are cursed at, slapped and even kicked.

 

  • Corporate audits are a joke, since management keeps two sets of time cards and any worker daring to speak truthfully about factory conditions will be beaten and fired.

 

  • Metro Group—which accounts for at least 80 percent of total production—is responsible to clean up the R.L. Denim factory, while working with its contractor to guarantee that the legal rights of the workers are finally respected.  Metro Group cannot pull their work from the factory, which would be the worst thing they could do.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Is a Bargain on a Pair of Jeans
Worth a Young Woman's Life?

President Obama Thinks Not

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Charles Kernaghan


We all like a bargain.  But do we ever stop to imagine what is behind the bargain?  How would we feel if we knew that the cheap jeans we purchased were made by Fatima, an 18-year-old woman paid just 11 1/2 U.S. cents an hour, who was exhausted and overworked to death at the R.L. Denim sweatshop in Bangladesh.

When Fatima begged to be allowed to go home, her superior slapped her face.  Pregnant women who ask for maternity leave are thrown out of the factory without a cent.  A 17-year-old boy who passed out on the shop floor was kicked by the plant manager.  Forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, while being paid just 11 1/2 to 17 U.S. cents an hour, R.L. Denim's workers are exhausted and trapped in abject misery, with six people living in a one-room hovel.  Paid just 13 cents for each pair of jeans they sew, these workers are so poor they clean their teeth using their fingers and ashes from the fire.

Knowing this, is the bargain still worth it?

It does not have to be this way.

President Barack Obama believes that Fatima and her co-workers have the right to live and work under humane conditions, with respect for their legal rights, and paid fair wages.


In the last Congress, then-Senator Obama was a co-sponsor of the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act.  He was joined by Senator Joe Biden, who is now Vice President and Senator Hillary Clinton, now Secretary of State, along with 141 other co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  The anti-sweatshop legislation was originally introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressman Michael Michaud, and soon it will be re-introduced in the new Congress.

When this legislation becomes law, it will be the first time ever that corporations will be held accountable to respect local labor laws in the countries in which they produce.  The legislation certainly does not attempt to set minimum wage levels, which are solely up to the people and elected governments of each country.  But the legislation does require corporations to respect the International Labor Organization's core internationally recognized worker rights standards:  no child labor;  no forced labor;  freedom of association; the right to organize unions;  the right to bargain collectively, and decent working conditions.  The Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act will apply equally to every country.  If sweatshop goods are found to be made in the United States, they will not be allowed to be sold or exported.  If sweatshop goods are made in Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Bangladesh or any other country, these goods will not be allowed to be imported to or sold in the United States.

Corporations have long demanded, and won, all sorts of enforceable laws-intellectual property and copyright laws, backed up by sanctions-to protect their corporate products, trademarks, labels and logos.  If someone is caught making a knock-of of Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Microsoft or the Nike Swoosh, they will go to prison.  But when we ask these very same companies if we cannot have similar laws to protect the rights of the 16-year-old girl in Mexico who made the Barbie, the corporations respond:  "No.  That would be an impediment to Free Trade."  So as things stand now, Barbie is legally protected, but not the young girl who made her.  This is just plain stupid.   (http://www.nlcnet.org/article.php?id=242)

Human beings deserve at least as much legal protection as corporate products are afforded.

These is even a precedent for this.  When the Burlington Coat Factory was caught using dog and cat fur on its winter jackets made in China, which were being sold in the United States, the U.S. Congress went ballistic-and passed the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000.  The law prohibits the import, export or sale in the U.S. of all products made with dog and cat fur.  If we can ptotect dogs and cats, surely we should also be able to protect the rights of human beings.  We need enforceable internationally recognized labor rights laws and standards beneath which corporations cannot go.

One last point regarding the abusive sweatshop conditions and starvation wages behind so many of the bargains we are offered.  We know that the young workers at the R.L. Denim factory are paid just 13 U.S. cents for each pair of Metro Group jeans they sew.   So, what would happen if the wages were doubled, or even tripled so that the direct labor cost to sew the jeans was now 26 to 39 U.S. cents?  Could we afford this?  If the answer is Yes, then we could lift the more than two million mostly young women garment workers in Bangladesh out of misery and at least into poverty, where they and their families could live with a modicum of dignity.

It is a pity we do not get the chance to meet the workers across the developing world who make so many of the goods we purchase.  If we had that chance, we might think twice about the next bargain.

 

R.L. Denim Ltd.
590 Col. Jones Road
North Kattali, Pahartali
Chittagong, Bangladesh


Chairman:   Mr. R.K. Datta
General Manager:    Mr. Tapash
Asst. Production Manager: Mr. Rahman


Phone:  +880-31-37708 / 03
Fax:  +880-31-75272
Email:   [email protected]

 

Established in 1997, the R.L. Denim factory is 12 years old.  R.L. Denim is one of 12 factories making up the Jeans Express Ltd. Group.

The R.L. Denim factory has the capacity to turn out 124,000 pairs of short and long basic five-pocket denim jeans per month.
R.L. Denim's website carries the slogan:  "We say Yes to Anti-Child Labour."

There are approximately 650 workers at R.L. Denim, more than 75 percent of whom are young women.

 

Metro Group is Responsible for the Abusive Sweatshop Conditions

For at least the last year, the Metro Group-including Makro Cash & Carry in the United Kingdom-has accounted for 80 percent, if not more, of total production at the R.L. Denim sweatshop factory in Bangladesh.

The following labels were smuggled out of the factory.
    

- Youkon (Owned by Metro / Makro  
Cash & Carry.)

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

- Authentic (Owned by Metro / Makro
Cash & Carry.)

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

- TiP (Owned by Metro’s Real hypermarkets.)

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

- Adler (Owned by Metro until it was
sold in January 2009 to the private equity
firm BluO.)

 

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  

- Kikstar (owned by the law firm Weber
& Sauberschwarz which is located in
Dusseldorf).




-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Sweatshop Conditions at R.L. Denim

"When someone goes to work there, their life expectancy goes down."
           
- R. L. Denim worker

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



Workers describe the R.L. Denim factory as noisy, dirty, overcrowded, swelteringly hot (temperatures may reach 89.6F with 79 percent humidity).  And the air is thick with fabric dust.  It is even worse when the power goes off-which is frequently-and the generator must be switched on.  The sound is deafening, and to save energy the fans are shut off.  The workers' clothing is drenched in sweat.  There is less than two feet between each assembly line.

Workers need permission to use the bathroom, which is allowed two or at most three times a day.  The workers say that the toilets are very dirty.  They also believe that the factory's drinking water is unsafe and that workers have gotten sick from it.  Nor are workers allowed to speak during working hours.

The R.L. Denim factory is located on the first floor of a five story building.  There is no proper cafeteria, so most workers take their lunch either on the crowded stairs or on the roof, while others eat outside squatting in the dirt.  There is no doctor or nurse in the factory, as management provides not even the most rudimentary health care.  Even going to the least expensive medical clinic still costs the workers 200 taka, $2.92 (U.S.)-more than two days' wages-to see a doctor and receive generic medicines.


A woman in the finishing section explained she never earned more than 4000 taka a month, or $58.39 U.S., and this was only when she worked 12 1/2 to 13 hours a day, without a single day off in the entire month.  For working 84 hours a week, she earned just $13.48 (U.S.), or 16 cents an hour.  Like other workers she was terrified of the general manager, Mr. Tapash, and the other supervisors who beat her and the other workers.  Women were slapped and even kicked for not moving fast enough.


Supervisors constantly pressure the workers to work faster.  They curse at the workers, slap or even punch or kick them.

The work pace is frantic, relentless and exhausting.

No one would willingly work in a sweatshop like R.L. Denim.  Only desperation and the lack of alternatives drives them there.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ms. Fatima

18 Years Old, Sick, Exhausted, and Overworked to Death at the R.L. Denim Factory

-----------------------------------------------------------------------


18-Year-Old Fatima Akter - Sick and overworked to death at the R. L. Denim Factory on December 7, 2008.

 

Late one night in a safe house, with tears running down her face, the dead girl’s mother told us the following:

For three days in early December 2008, 18-year- old Fatima repeatedly begged her supervisor, Mr. Monir, for a day off. Forced to work 13 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, Fatima was sick and exhausted, with pains in her chest and arms. She also had dysentery, which may have resulted from the filthy drinking water in the factory. Rather than grant her a sick day, Mr. Monir slapped her face very hard and ordered her to continue working. Several days later, at 10:00 a.m., Fatima again became so violently ill that this time even her supervisor allowed her to lie down on a piece of cardboard on the factory floor. Management left her lying there unconscious, not lifting a finger to arrange for emergency medical treatment. After an hour or so, it was the workers who demanded that Fatima be taken to the hospital. Finally, management arranged for a co-worker to take her on a tiny motorcycle rickshaw to the Al-Amin Hospital on Zakir Hossain Road in Chittagong. At 5:00 p.m. that same day, December 7, 2008, the doctors declared that 18-year-old Bibi Kulsum Fatima was dead.

Fatima worked on Line D at the R.L. Denim factory. Her identity card number was 532.

Fatima was a helper. It was her job to “clean” the finished jeans, which meant she used a small scissor to cut off any loose threads left on the pants. Management assigned her a mandatory production goal of cleaning 90 to 100 pairs of jeans each hour, or an average of one pair of jeans every 38 seconds. The pace was frantic and relentless. In the typical 13-hour shift, Fatima had to clean 1,235 pairs of pants. She was paid one-tenth of a U.S. cent for each pair of jeans she cleaned. If Fatima fell behind in her production goal or made any mistakes, she was cursed at and slapped by her supervisor. This happened frequently. Fatima was paid just 11 1⁄2 cents an hour, 93 cents a day and $5.60 U.S. a week. In her short life, Fatima never had the money to go to a movie theatre.

When Fatima died, she was working on the Authentic label, and before that on Youkon, both of which are owned by the Metro/Makro Cash & Carry chain in the United Kingdom.

Fatima's mother said her daughter was a serious, but very friendly child, who had dreams of a better life.

Fearing a possible investigation, the only steps R.L. Denim management took following Fatima's death were to fire the more than a dozen 13, 14 and 15-year-old children who worked at the factory.  As the family had no money to bury their daughter, management did send her body back to the countryside where the family lives.

Management did promise to compensate the family for their daughter's death, but to date, the family has received nothing.

The poor family is now asking factory management to pay the life insurance-approximately 100,000 taka ($1,460) that the deceased teenaged girl is due, along with a death benefit of 300,000 taka ($4,380 U.S.).  This is the very least that factory management and the giant Metro Group-the world's third largest retailer-could do after working a very sick 18-year-old girl to death.

Before working at R.L. Denim, Fatima had worked for a year at another factory in the same building.

 

“She was 18 years old. Every day, she worked 13, 14, 15 hours. She was so tired, exhausted and sick. She was sick for ten days. She asked for leave, but the supervisor slapped her. My daughter was so exhausted that she fainted on the floor. They took her to the hospital and she died.”

--Fatima’s mother

The parents of 18-year-old Fatima Akter, who was overworked to death
at the R.L. Denim plant, grieve their daughter's loss.

 

 

Bangladeshi Ministry of Labor Orders Death Compensation:


Dead Girl's Father Writes to the Ministry of Labor Seeking Help:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

No Mother’s Day for Women at R.L. Denim Factory
Sewing Clothing for Metro Group - the World’s
Third Largest Retailer

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Less than two months before she was to give birth, a 21-year-old woman was thrown out of the
R.L. Denim factory when she asked for her legal right to maternity leave with pay.

 

Fatima was thrown out of the factory without a cent
when she begged for her legal right to maternity
leave with pay.

Fatima was thrown out of the factory without a cent when she begged for her legal right to maternity leave with pay.

When we met with this 21-year-old (whose name was also Fatima), she was coughing and wheezing-having just been diagnosed with tuberculosis.  The infant in her arms looked frighteningly weak and listless.

The law in Bangladesh is very clear:  Pregnant women are guaranteed 16 weeks of maternity leave with full pay.  The pay is based on the average wage the woman earned over the last three months, including all regular and overtime wages and any production or other bonuses.

But at R.L. Denim, management makes its own laws.  Twenty-one-year old Fatima was let go in July 2008, when she was 7 1/2 months pregnant, and asked to leave the factory without receiving a single cent of the maternity benefits legally due her.  Fatima was a hard and fast worker who had started at R.L. Denim when she was just 15 years old.  Having been cheated, Fatima had to borrow money to pay for her medical appointments and prescribed medicines.

 

Blood Money

Fatima's average wage at the R.L. Denim plant-working seven days a week-was just 3,500 taka a month ($51.09).  This includes all regular and overtime wages and a production bonus.  This means that if R.L. Denim had respected Fatima's legal right to 16 weeks (3.69 months) maternity leave with full pay, it would have cost the factory only $189-hardly a staggering sum of money.

Of all the workers we spoke with, not one knew of even a single time when the factory had respected a woman employee's right to maternity leave with pay.

Fatima was thrown out of the factory without a cent when she
begged for her legal right to maternity leave with pay.

How is it possible that the giant Metro Group-the world's third largest retailer-could account for the vast majority of production at the R.L. Denim factory for more than a year and yet remain completely unaware of the systematic violation of the women workers' right to paid maternity leave, not to mention the routine violation of every other labor law?  Can it be that the international garment industry has become so ruthless and removed from all human values that paying $189 in maternity leave benefits is too much and is to be avoided by cheating some of the hardest working yet poorest women anywhere in the world?


Mrs. Parvin


—paid just 12.6 cents an hour at the R.L. Denim factory, forced to work over 80 hours a week, beaten, cheated of her wages and terminated in February 2009 when she begged for her maternity leave.

 

Mrs. Parvin with her infant, who was born on March 6, 2009.

Mrs. Parvin worked at the R.L. Denim factory as a helper, supplying the cut fabric to the sewers on her line, for the last four years.  She worked 13 to 14 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., seven days a week, with at most one or two days off a month.  She and her co-workers were routinely at the factory 87 hours a week, while working 81 hours, including 33 hours of mandatory overtime.  She was paid just 1,800 taka a month, $26.28 (68.5 taka = $1.00 U.S.), which amounts to a 12.6 cent-an-hour wage, or $1.01 a day and $6.06 for the regular 48-hour work week.  Including the 33 hours of compulsory overtime, she still earned just $10.11 a week.  Since she should have earned at least $14.38 a week, Mrs. Parvin was routinely cheated of 30 percent of the wages legally due her.

Mrs. Parvin told us that the general manager, Mr. Tapash, along with two supervisors, Mr. Mahfuz and Mr. Rahman, routinely cursed at, slapped and beat her and the other women workers if they moved too slowly.  They also pulled the women's hair and even kicked them.  When they cursed at the young women, they used the most vile, degrading terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Parvin and her infant live in a primitive one-room hut with paper-thin thatch walls and a corrugated metal roof.



Mrs. Parvin was having a very difficult pregnancy.  She was tired and often sick.  She pleaded with management to allow her to go on maternity leave-which by law guarantees 16 weeks leave with full pay.  But, she was always rejected.  Around February 15, less than three weeks before she was to give birth, when Mrs. Parvin could no longer make her assigned production goal, Mr. Tapash the general manager angrily told her to get out of the factory.  He gave her just 1,500 taka ($21.90) and said that she could re-apply for work in two months.  By law, she was owed $230.08 U.S.-sixteen weeks' full pay at $14.38 per week including overtime.  After working seven-day, 80-hour work weeks for four years at the R.L. Denim factory, Mrs. Parvin was kicked out with less than 10 percent of the legal maternity benefits due her.

 

A doctor instructed Mrs. Parvin to remain in bed for six weeks in order to recover her health.

 

Women Trapped in Misery

Mrs. Parvin and her co-workers at the R.L. Denim factory sew clothing for the third largest retailer in the world, the Metro Group, which has some 2,200 stores across Europe.

What would European shoppers think if they knew that Mrs. Parvin, her parents, two brothers and her infant all live in a one room, 10-by-13 foot hovel made of bamboo, with a tin roof and paper-thin thatch walls. Employed as a helper at the R.L. Denim plant, she earns some of the lowest wages in the world, just 11 1⁄2 U.S. cents an hour, $5.60 a week and $24.27 a month. Mrs. Parvin has to pay 1,400 taka ($20.44) just for rent each month. Even with all the excessive overtime hours she is forced to work, Mrs. Parvin still earns just $26.28 a month.

Mrs. Parvin and others like her subsist on rice and mashed potatoes for breakfast, rice with a vegetable for lunch, and for supper rice again with a vegetable or lentils. A real treat is to share an egg at dinner. Meat, fish, chicken are out of the question.

In the slum neighborhoods where the garment workers live, several families share a few bathrooms and the outdoor water pump. In the morning, there are long lines to cue up for the bathroom. The women bathe using the hand pump, where the only privacy is a small bamboo fence.

The workers are so poor that almost all the women and their children clean their teeth using their fingers and ashes from the fire. Only a handful of people can afford a toothbrush and toothpaste.

The mothers worry about their children, and their dream is to be able to provide more nutritious foods like milk and eggs.
















Mr. Yasin

—a 17-year-old worker at R.L. Denim who was violently sick, collapsed on the factory floor and was kicked by the general manager as he lay there unconscious.

After 17-year-old Mr. Yasin became seriously ill and passed out on the shop floor;
he was violently kicked by the plant manager.

 

Seventeen-year-old Mr. Yasin had worked at the R.L. Denim factory for the last eight months in the Quality Control department.  His identity card number is 662.

In Bangladesh, the weekly Muslim holiday is on Friday, but at R.L. Denim, the workers were forced to toil seven days a week.  On Friday, February 13, Mr. Yasin was sick with a high fever and severe pains throughout his body.  He requested sick leave, but it was denied, and he had to remain working.  On the following day, Mr. Yasin was still sick and again repeatedly appealed to supervisors Mr. Rahman and Mr. Anowar, pleading to be allowed the day off.  They refused.

Around 2:30 p.m., Mr. Yasin felt so weak, with his head throbbing and on the verge of vomiting, that he lay down next to his work area and immediately passed out.

More than a dozen workers confirmed to us that the general manager, Mr. Tapash, walked over to the unconscious 17-year-old and violently kicked him.

The young man did not waken or move and remained lying unconscious.  After some time, management finally took the boy to the local municipal hospital, where a doctor prescribed medicine for his low blood pressure and weakness.  Management did pay the 1,000 taka ($14.60 U.S.) cost of medicine.

Mr. Yasin is too afraid of the harsh and brutal treatment at the R.L. Denim factory to return.

Yasin estimates that there are about 10 boys and 30 girls his age working at R.L. Denim.

 

-----------------------
Hours
-----------------------

  • Grueling routine 13 to 14-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
  • Seven-day workweek with at most one or two days off per month.
  • On Fridays, the workers' supposed weekly holiday-they are let out "early"-forced to work nine, ten or eleven hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.
  • During the long nine-month busy season, it is common for the workers to be kept for two grueling all-night 20-hour shifts each week, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.  After just two hours of sleep, the workers must report back for their next shift at 8:00 a.m. that same morning.
  • Workers are at the factory up to 97 hours a week, while toiling 90 hours.

R.L. Denim Limited factory

 

There is no other way to describe the hours at the R.L. Denim factory other than grueling and exhausting.  All overtime is strictly mandatory.  During the long nine-month busy season, from May through January, the routine shift is 13 to 14 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.  There are just two breaks in the shift, a half hour for lunch, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m., and a ten-minute snack break at 7:00 p.m. when management provides the workers with a piece of bread and a small banana.  Twice a week on average, before shipments must leave for the Metro Group in Europe, it is mandatory that the workers remain for 20-hour, all-night shifts from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. the following day.  With just two hours of sleep, the workers must report back that same morning to begin their next shift at 8:00 a.m.  When they are forced to work all night, the workers receive just one additional 15-minute break at 10:00 p.m. when management provides a small meal.

On Friday, which is supposed to be the workers' legal holiday, they are let out "early," after being required to work a nine, ten or eleven-hour shift from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00 p.m.  During the peak season, the workers are allowed at most one or two days off each month.  It is not uncommon for the workers to be at the factory 97 hours a week, while actually working 90 hours, including 42 hours of mandatory overtime-exceeding Bangladesh's legal limit of permissible overtime hours by 425 percent!   And this assumes that the workers actually receive two days off a month and are let out early on Fridays, at 6:00 p.m. and during the week at 9:30 p.m.



Routine 13 to 14-Hour Shift

8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.        Work, 5 hours
1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.        Lunch, 1/2 hour
1:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
       Work, 5 1/2 hours
7:00 p.m. to 7:10 p.m.
       Snack break, 10 minutes
7:10 p.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.        Work, 1.83 to 2.83 hours

 

It gets even worse.  If a worker makes any mistakes or fails to complete her mandatory production goal by 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.-which is arbitrarily set by management at an excessive level, she is required to remain working an additional 30 minutes or even an hour or two without pay.  In these cases, the shift can stretch out to 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. and even 12:00 midnight.

As discussed in the following section, R.L. Denim management keeps two sets of time cards.  The "official" time card-to be shown to the gullible auditors from the Metro Group-is falsified to show every Friday marked as OFF and overtime never exceeding two hours a day.  The real time cards-to track actual hours-are never shown to the corporate auditors.  We have included several real time cards in this report.

 

Since there is no factory cafeteria, R.L. Denim workers must take their lunch on the roof

 

It would be barely possible for a well-fed and healthy person to keep up with such exhausting hours and grueling work pace.  For a malnourished young woman living in a miserable hovel, it is almost impossible.  Many of the women have no choice but to take two or even three sick days off a month.  But this comes at a price, as management docks their wages for each day missed.  It is irrelevant that Bangladesh's labor laws guarantee workers 14 paid sick days a year.  In addition to losing their wages, management also takes away their monthly production bonus of 200 taka ($2.92) making for a total loss of three days' wages.  This might not seem like a lot of money to us, but for workers earning just $1.38 a day, it amounts to the loss of more than two days' base wages.

The "slow season" at the R.L. Denim factory is short, lasting approximately 2 1/2 months, from mid-February to the end of April.  Currently, the daily shift is 10 1/2 to 11 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., with two days off a month.

As of May 3 and 4, the R.L. Denim factory was back to mandatory 11 1/2 to 12-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 or 8:30 p.m.

 

The “Slow Season”

Forced to work 55 1⁄2 to 82 hours a week

The "slow" season for R.L. Denim and other garment factories across Bangladesh generally lasts just three months-February, March and April.

However, at the R.L. Denim factory, production slowed down only as of Tuesday, February 19.  Before that, the workers were still being forced to work two grueling all-night, 20-hour shifts each week, from 8:00 a.m. straight through to 4:00 a.m. the following morning. After an all-night shift, the workers were allowed to go home, sleep for two hours, but had to be back for their next shift starting at 8:00 a.m. that same morning.

On Tuesday, February 19, management told the workers that there would be no further all-night shifts until the beginning of May.

But it is not that the "slow season" is a picnic for the workers. They are still forced to toil 55 1/2 to 82 hours a week! But it is better than the nine-month peak season.

A review of time cards for the first 14 days of April 2009 shows the workers forced to work on Friday, April 3, which is supposed to be their weekly holiday, and on Tuesday, April 14, which is the Bengali New Year, an important national holiday.  In the 14-day period the workers were allowed just one day off.

 

 

Forced to Work 82 Hours a Week During the "Slow Season"

R.L. Denim keeps two sets of time cards.  The "official" time cards are falsified by management to show all Fridays and holidays off and never record more than two hours of overtime a day.  The official cards are used to trick the gullible corporate auditors from the Metro Group.  The "informal" time cards-the real ones-more or less track the actual number of hours worked each week.  We have removed the names, code numbers and work sections from the real time cards to protect the workers from being beaten and fired in retaliation for speaking truthfully about factory conditions.

In the attached time card, it can be seen that in a seven-day period, Friday, April 3 through Thursday, April 9, this worker was forced to toil 82 hours.

DAY    HOURS WORKED
   
Friday, April 3    8 + 1 = 9 hours
Saturday, April 4    8 + 2 + 2 = 12 hours
Sunday, April 5    8 + 2 + 2 = 12 hours
Monday, April 6    8 + 2 + 2 + 1 = 13 hours
Tuesday, April 7    8 + 2 + 2 + 1 = 13 hours
Wednesday, April 8    8 + 2 + 2 = 12 hours
Thursday, April 9    8 + 2 + 1 = 11 hours
   
     TOTAL Worked:  82 hours


This would put the worker in the factory 85 1/2 hours a week, while working 48 regular and 34 overtime hours.  These hours are blatantly illegal, as by law the workweek cannot under any circumstances exceed 60 hours a week and, on average, cannot exceed 56 hours.  Even during the "slow" season, the 82 hours worked by this worker, including 34 hours of mandatory overtime, exceeds the legal average limit on overtime by 325 percent!  Another time card shows a worker forced to toil 67 1/2 hours during the same seven-day period from April 3 to April 9.

 

DAY HOURS WORKED
   
Friday, April 3 8 + 1 = 9 hours
Saturday, April 4 8 + 2 + 2 = 12 hours
Sunday, April 5 8 + 1/2 = 8 1/2 hours
Monday, April 6 8 + 2  = 10 hours
Tuesday, April 7 8 + 2 = 10 hours
Wednesday, April 8 8 + 1 = 9 hours
Thursday, April 9 8 + 1 = 9 hours
   
  TOTAL Worked:  67 1/2 hours


Even during the so-called "slow season," this worker too was forced to remain for 19 1/2 hours of overtime in the seven-day period from April 3 through April 9.  Yet another time card shows a worker forced to toil 64 1/2 hours, including 16 1/2 hours of compulsory overtime during the same seven-day period from Friday, April 3 through Thursday, April 9.

 

DAY HOURS WORKED
   
Friday, April 3 8 + 1 = 9 hours
Saturday, April 4 8 + 2 + 1/2 = 10 1/2 hours
Sunday, April 5 8 + 1 = 9 hours
Monday, April 6 8 + 1  = 9 hours
Tuesday, April 7 8 = 8 hours
Wednesday, April 8 8 = 8 hours
Thursday, April 9
8 + 2 + 1 = 11 hours
   
  TOTAL Worked:  64 1/2 hours

 

Even if we switch the workweek to include Friday, April 10—which the worker had off—this still puts this worker at the factory 55 1⁄2 hours a week including 7.5 hours of mandatory overtime. And this would be among the shortest workweeks during the three-month so-called “slow season.”

DAY HOURS WORKED

 
Saturday, April 4 8 + 2 + 1/2 = 10 1/2 hours
Sunday, April 5 8 + 1 = 9 hours
 Monday, April 6 8 + 1  = 9 hours
Tuesday, April 7 8 = 8 hours
Wednesday, April 8 8 = 8 hours
Thursday, April 9 8 + 2 + 1 = 11 hours
Friday, April 10 OFF = 0
   
  TOTAL Worked:  55 1/2 hours

 

----------------------------------------------------------
Some of the Lowest Wages in the World
----------------------------------------------------------

The current legal minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh was enacted on November 16, 2006, stipulating some of the lowest wages in the world.  "Helpers," who for example cut loose threads from the completed garment, earn just 11.5 U.S. cents an hour, while "junior sewers" with less than four years experience are paid 14.4 cents per hour and the "senior sewers" with more than five years experience receive 17 cents an hour.

Helpers Earn 93 Cents a Day
(1662.50 taka a month; 68.5 taka = $1.00 U.S.)
11.5 cents an hour
93 cents a day (eight hours)
$5.60 a week (48 hours)
$24.27 a month
$291.24 a year

 

Junior Sewers Earn $1.15 a Day
(2046 taka per month)
14.4 cents an hour
$1.15 a day (eight hours)
$6.89 a week (48 hours)
$29.87 a month
$358.42 a year

 

Senior Sewers Earn $1.38 a Day
(2,449 taka a month)
17 cents an hour
$1.38 a day (eight hours)
$8.25 a week (48 hours)
$35.75 a month
$429.02 a year



These are below-subsistence wages, trapping the workers and their families in abject misery.  It is only by working excessive overtime hours that the workers can barely survive.

Over the last two years, the real purchasing power of the garment workers' wages has actually fallen 17.3 percent, as the rate of inflation was 7.2 percent in 2007 and 9.42 percent in 2008.  After factoring in for inflation, the helpers are earning more like 9.5 cents per hour, junior sewers 12 cents and senior sewers just 14 cents.  As of February 2009, the annual inflation rate is running at 5.8 percent, meaning that the garment workers' real wages continue to fall.


Cheated of their Wages,
Forced to Work 78 to 90 Hours a Week

At least during the long nine-month busy season, different groups of R.L. Denim workers-over 30 workers in total-report that they are routinely forced to work 78 and up to 90 hours a week. This means they are working 30 to 42 hours of obligatory overtime each week in addition to the regular 48 hour workweek.  Given that the legal limit on average overtime in Bangladesh is eight hours per week, this means that overtime at the R.L. Denim factory routinely exceeds the legal limit by 275 to 425 percent. Just as the hours are long, grueling and illegal, so are the workers cheated of their wages.

In these same interviews, the workers put their average monthly wage including overtime at between 3,500 and 5,000 taka:

3,500 Taka
(68.5 taka = $1.00 U.S.)

$11.79 per week
$51.09 per month
$613.14 per year
5,000 Taka
(68.5 Taka = $1.00 U.S.)

$16.84 per week
$72.99 per month
$875.91 per year


To arrive at the most conservative estimate of how much the workers are being cheated, we will assume the low end of hours worked each week-78 hours-and the very high end of what the workers report earning-5,000 taka a month ($16.84 a week).
 
The legal minimum wage for toiling a 78-hour workweek should be $21.32-$8.25 for the regular 48 hours and $13.07 for the 38 hours of overtime, which must be paid at a 100 percent premium, or 34.4 cents an hour (U.S.).  But the workers never received $21.32, instead earning at most $16.84 for the grueling 78 hour workweek.  This means they were cheated of at least $4.48 a week, or 21 percent of the wages legally due them.  And this is the most conservative estimate.

The workers estimate that they are systematically cheated of at least 20 to 30 percent of the regular and overtime wages legally due them each week.

At the very minimum then, using the low end obligatory 78-hour workweek, we can conservatively estimate that the R.L. Denim workers are systematically robbed of at least $4.48 to $6.40 of the wages legally due them each week. For most people in Europe and the U.S., this would seem an insignificant amount of money, really just pocket change.  But for the poor garment workers in Bangladesh, who earn just 17.2 U.S. cents an hour and just $1.37 a day, being robbed of $4.48 to $6.40 each week is the equivalent of losing 3 1/4 to 4 1/2 days regular wages each week.  The reality is that this represents a staggering loss for these poor workers and their families.

 

R.L. Denim management knows exactly what they are doing-which is systematically and illegally cheating the workers of wages legally due them.

 
How can we be so sure of this?  It is very simple:  Not a single R.L. Denim worker has ever seen or received a written pay stub from the factory.  Management knows it has a dirty and illegal secret to hide, and that it would be very inconvenient if there were a paper trail of pay stub records that the workers could use to document their wages and hours and challenge management to pay them what they are legally due.  Moreover, as a backup, any worker who persists in asking management for his or her legal wage will be immediately fired and thrown out of the factory with nothing.
 
One month's wages are withheld:  The R.L. Denim workers are paid their previous month's wages on the 15th to 25th of the following month.
 
Excessive Production Goals:  Workers must complete one operation every 10 to 12 seconds, nonstop, in the average 13-hour day.
  
R.L. Denim management arbitrarily assigns daily production goals, or quotas, to each assembly line.  The goals are excessive, but mandatory.
 
Every sewing operator is a specialist.  One young woman we spoke with sewed belt loops on blue jeans.  Depending upon the style, the production goal was to sew five or six belt loops on each pair of jeans, completing 60 pairs of jeans an hour.  This means she had just 10 to 12 seconds to sew each belt loop and had to complete 300 to 360 operations per hour.  The pace was frantic.  In the typical 13 hour shift, she had to sew 3,900 to 4,680 belt loops, nonstop, and every day was the same.

For her efforts, she was paid, at most, 1/20th of a cent (U.S.) for each belt loop she sewed. 
Individual workers, along with entire production lines, who fail to reach their assigned production goal, must remain working without pay until they do so.  It is the same with mistakes.  It is common for production lines to remain for 30 minutes or even an hour most days of the week to complete their goals or repair mistakes.  Sometimes, they are kept two hours, always without pay.

 

Workers Paid 13 Cents for Each Pair of
Metro Jeans They Sew

Each production line, made up of 75 sewers, is assigned a mandatory production goal of completing 1200 denim five-pocket full-length pairs of blue jeans in the average 12-hour shift. Each hour the 75 operators must sew 100 pairs of jeans.  In effect, this means that each operator has to sew 1.33 pairs of jeans per hour, or one pair every 45 minutes.   [1,200 ÷ 12 = 100;  100 ÷ 75 = 1.33;  1.33 ÷ 60 = 45]

We know that senior sewers at R.L. Denim Factory are paid, at most, the minimum wage of 17 cents (U.S.) an hour, which does not come even close to meeting the most basic subsistence level needs. 

Knowing both the wages, 17.2 cents (U.S.) per hour, and the amount of time the workers are allowed to complete each pair of blue jeans, which is 45 minutes, we can determine that R.L. Denim workers are paid just 13 cents to sew each pair of jeans  [45 minutes is 75% of an hour.  0.75 x 17.2 cents (U.S.) = 13 cents].  Here too, if the workers cannot reach their assigned goal, they will be kept for 30 minutes to an hour, unpaid, until they do so.  In actuality then, the women are often paid even less than 13 cents for each pair of jeans they sew.

Thirteen cents is not a whole lot of money, and we know that as things stand now, the workers are trapped in misery.  Suppose Metro Group decided to double or even triple the workers wages, to 26 to 39 cents for each pair of jeans sewn.  This would hardly bankrupt the Metro Group, but it would certainly allow the workers to live with a modicum of decency. 

There is another discrepancy we should point out.  In the U.S., the time allotted to sew a pair of five-pocket blue jeans is just 20 minutes.  More than twice as much time is allotted in Bangladesh due to "special factors" that must be accounted for.  One "special factor" is that the workers at R.L. Denim are exhausted, being forced to work grueling hours seven days a week.  Another "factor" which adds time to the production goal is that many workers are malnourished and sick due to the below-subsistence wages.  Then there is the excessive heat and humidity which leaves workers drenched in their own sweat.  There are frequent power outages, and it takes at least a little time to fire up the generators.  These "factors" all add up to a production time of 45 minutes.

Corporate Audits at R.L. Denim are a Joke

The audits are known in advance.  In preparation for the big day, the factory is cleaned, especially the dirty bathrooms.  Audit days are a little bit like a holiday for the workers who are let out early.  Workers are informed by management that important auditors will soon visit the factory, and they are instructed to never say anything negative about factory conditions or management practices.   Any worker who does not lie will be fired the minute the auditors leave the factory. 

Management also has phony time cards and pay records for the gullible auditors to review.

The process is so ridiculous that the workers have no idea who the auditors are or where they come from, have no idea what company owns which labels, and have no clue where the clothing they make is going.  Nor have the workers ever heard of, let alone seen, a "corporate code of conduct."  No code of conduct is posted anywhere in the factory, and the workers do not have even the slightest idea what a code of conduct could be.

What the workers do know with certainty is that if they dared exercise their legal right to organize a union, they will be immediately attacked and fired.

Nor are workers provided their "service book" or "appointment/contract letter," which are necessary documents to legally prove that a worker was employed at R.L. Denim and for how long.  Without such documents workers can be terminated without back wages or severance pay.

Outside R.L. Denim Factory

Bangladeshi Labour Laws Routinely Violated

Bangladeshi labor laws are straight forward and clear, yet at the R.L. Denim factory-producing for the giant Metro Group retailer-these laws are grossly and systematically violated on a daily basis and with complete impunity.

  • Legal working hours:  A regular 48-hour workweek and a maximum of 12 hours of overtime per week.


The regular workweek in Bangladesh is eight hours a day, six days a week for the legal 48 hour workweek.

Under no circumstances can overtime exceed 12 hours a week, for a maximum of 60 hours of regular and overtime work.  However, it is illegal for overtime work to regularly exceed an average of eight hours per week, or 56 total working hours.

All overtime hours must be paid at a 100 percent premium-that is, at twice the regular wage.

  • Maternity Leave:  Sixteen weeks leave with full wages is the law.


All women are legally due a maternity leave of 16 weeks with full pay.  The women are to be paid according to their average wage-including regular and overtime wages and production bonuses-as calculated over the last three months they worked.

  • Fifteen Days Paid Vacation:


Every worker employed for over a year at the same factory has the right to an annual vacation of 15 days, to be paid at the average wages they earned, including overtime and bonuses.

  • Eleven Paid National Holidays:


In a calendar year, every worker is entitled to eleven days of paid national holidays.

  • Fourteen paid sick days a year:


Every worker is entitled to fourteen sick days per year with full pay.

  • Clean Drinking Water:


Every factory worker has the right to sufficient safe and cold drinking water.

Metro Group Is in a Perfect Position to Do the Right Thing

Metro Group is in a perfect position to work with their contractor, R.L. Denim, in Bangladesh to clean up the factory while taking concrete steps to guarantee that the legal rights of the workers are finally respected.

Not only does Metro Group have enormous power and resources, as the world's third largest retailer, it is also in a very unique position.  For at least the last year, Metro Group's labels-Youkon, Authentic, Tip and Adler (which Metro owned through December 31, 2008)-appear to have accounted for 80 percent or more of total production at the R.L. Denim plant.  Accounting for such a large proportion of total production makes the Metro Group responsible for factory conditions and also gives the Metro Group tremendous sway with R.L. Denim management in regard to improving conditions.

Moreover, under the European Union's "Everything-But-Arms" enhanced GSP program, Metro's garments made in Bangladesh at the R.L. Denim plant enter Germany and the rest of Europe duty-free.  This means R.L. Denim's owner also has a very strong vested interest in avoiding loss of his duty-free access to the EU due to the gross and systematic violations of women's and worker rights.

Metro Group has already publicly confirmed that it is "committed to fair working conditions around the globe," and further that, "Metro Group acknowledges the right to organized labor."

And most important of all, the workers at Metro Group retail outlets across Germany are members of the United Service Union, Ver.di, which with 2.4 million members is one of the largest and strongest unions in the world.  There is no doubt that the United Services Union, Ver.di, will support their sisters and brothers in Bangladesh to guarantee that their rights are respected, including the right to organize.

-----------------------------------

What Metro Group Must Do

-----------------------------------

There must be no retaliation whatsoever against any workers that management may suspect of having spoken truthfully regarding conditions or of expressing the desire that their legal rights be respected. 

Metro Group must keep its current level of production in the R.L. Denim plant while working with local management to clean up the factory and taking steps to guarantee that the legal rights of the workers are finally respected.

The very worst thing the Metro Group could do is to cut and run, pulling their work from R.L. Denim, as this would only further punish the workers, who have already suffered enough.  To throw the workers out in the street with nothing-for merely asking for their legal rights-is not acceptable.

Metro Group has the power to transform the R.L. Denim plant into a model factory, where the rights of the workers are respected according to Bangladesh's laws as well as the core ILO internationally recognized worker rights standards.  If Metro Group exercises the power, influence and resources it has, this could be a win-win situation for everyone involved:  the young mostly-women workers at R.L. Denim, factory management, European consumers and the Metro Group.

The labor laws of Bangladesh are very clear regarding regular working hours, permissible overtime, base and overtime wages, maternity benefits, sick days, annual vacations, national holidays and factory conditions.  To avoid repeating past factory monitoring efforts-which have miserably failed the Metro Group-the National Labor Committee is willing to join with local Bangladeshi women's, human rights and worker rights organizations such as the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) to independently monitor the R.L. Denim factory for full compliance with Bangladeshi labor law and the ILO's core worker rights standards.

The single best way to monitor factory conditions is to guarantee the workers' right to organize a union, and we ask the Metro Group to seriously and concretely support the rights of R.L. Denim's workers to organize.

Some of the workers most immediate needs include pay stubs/records;  proper overtime pay;  Fridays off;  sick leave according to the law, and paid maternity leave, among others.

The family of deceased 18-year-old Ms. Fatima Akter must receive proper compensation from factory management for her death while working at the factory.  Ms. Akter was denied sick leave, even slapped, and was denied even the most rudimentary medical care as she lay dying on the factory floor.  The family has asked factory management for a death compensation of 300,000 taka (just $4,380 U.S.).  This should be paid immediately.

Metro Group must also work with its contractor, R.L. Denim, to make the workers whole again.  Under Metro Group's watch, R.L. Denim management grossly, systematically and illegally cheated the workers of wages and benefits that were legally due them.  The outstanding back wages and benefits owed the workers over the last year must be paid--especially to the women denied their legal right to 16 weeks' maternity benefits, who are now owed at least $341.12 in maternity leave pay due them.  Moreover, everyone employed in the R.L. Denim factory for the last 12 months is owed at the very least $401.48 in outstanding back wages and benefits.

The Metro Group's efforts to bring its R.L. Denim contractor into full compliance with Bangladeshi labor law and ILO internationally recognized worker rights standards could have a positive impact well beyond the single R.L. Denim plant.  Metro Group could have a positive impact upon the lives of thousands of garment workers, as R.L. Denim is just one of twelve factories belonging to the very large Jeans Express Limited Company.

Consumers across Germany and the rest of Europe-if they knew of the grueling hours, pitifully low wages, gross abuses and miserable living conditions of the young women in Bangladesh sewing the garments they purchase-would want to help these women-among the hardest working yet poorest women anywhere in the world-to climb out of misery and at least into poverty.


Metro Group and R.L. Denim
Must Make the Workers Whole Again

Metro Group and the R.L. Denim Factory Owe the Workers Back Wages
and Benefits

 

Certainly, the Metro Group has the power and the resources, as the world's third largest retailer with profits of €2.2 billion ($2.87 billion U.S.), to work together with the R.L. Denim management to pay the workers the outstanding legal wages and benefits due them.

Back Wages:  As a minimum starting point, we ask that Metro Group and R.L. Denim immediately pay each worker the $332.80 in back wages due them over the last 12 months, calculated at $6.40 per week for the last 52 weeks.  For the approximately 650 workers in the R.L. Denim factory, the subtotal would come to just $216,320-a very small sum of money, which should be easily and quickly payable by Metro Group and R.L. Denim.

Additional reparations are also due the workers given R.L Denim's systematic and illegal violation of Bangladesh's labor laws regarding paid maternity leave, annual vacation days, sick days and national holidays-to name just a few of the serious violations.

Each woman denied maternity leave is immediately owed a minimum of $341.12:
Bangladeshi labor law is very clear:  Pregnant women are legally due a maternity leave of 16 weeks at full pay-including overtime-based on the average total pay over her last three months work.

At the R.L. Denim factory, women routinely worked a minimum average 78-hour workweek, for which they should have been paid at least $21.22.  This means that the women were cheated of, at a minimum, $341.12 in maternity leave pay legally due them.


Sick Days, Paid Holidays and Annual Vacations are also Systematically Withheld at the R.L. Denim Factory: 

 

  • Sick Days:  By law, each worker is entitled to 15 sick days per year at full pay.  This is especially relevant at a factory like R.L. Denim where the often malnourished workers are forced to work grueling hours seven days a week in an unhealthy environment-including drinking water which the workers say is unsafe.  At a minimum, based on the regular daily base wage of $1.38 for eight hours of work, each worker is owed $20.70 in sick benefits due them.  ($1.38 x 15 days = $20.70.)

 

  • Vacation Pay:  Every worker employed for at least one year at the same factory has the right to annual vacation time of 15 days to be paid at the average wages they earned including overtime and bonuses.  As the average legal wage including overtime is 27.3 U.S. cents an hour, $2.19 per eight-hour shift, each worker is owed $32.80 in outstanding vacation pay due them.

 

  • Paid National Holidays:  Under Bangladesh's labor law, every worker is entitled to 11 paid national holidays per year.  At R.L. Denim, very few national holidays are respected-though the workers were given May 1 off.  But those holidays the workers are permitted off are not paid.  If only paid at the minimum wage of $1.38 per day, for the 11 national holidays, each worker is still owed $15.18 in back holiday wages.

 

The total minimum wages and benefits due each worker over the last 12 months is $401.48.
Women workers denied maternity leave with pay would be owed a total of $742.60.


As we have stated, these estimates are at the very low end of the actual back wages and benefits due R.L. Denim workers.  It is only meant as a starting point for any settlement to be reached between the workers, their representatives and representatives of the Metro Group and R.L. Denim.

Our purpose in estimating the minimum outstanding back wages and benefits due the R.L. Denim workers is to demonstrate how easily Metro Group and R.L. Denim could make these workers whole again.

 

Metro Group

The World's Third Largest Retailer


Based in Germany, the Metro Group is the third largest retailer in the world, with 2008 revenues reaching 68 billion Euros-or $88.6 billion U.S.  The Metro Group has some 300,000 employees and operates nearly 2,200 stores in 32 countries.

Metro Group
Schlüterstrasse 1
40235 Düsseldorf
Germany

CEO: Dr. Eckhard Cordes

Corporate Communications:
Phone:     +49 211-6886-2947
Fax:     +49211-6886-2001
Email:      [email protected]

  • Metro Group will hold its annual General Meeting on Wednesday, May 13, 2009.  Shareholders can participate and help shape Metro Group's policy and practices.
  • With its headquarters in Germany, the Metro Group is the world's third largest retailer.  In 2006, when Wal-Mart fled Germany after losing $4.5 billion, the Metro Group took over all 85 former Wal-Mart stores.  Metro Group sales were up 6.1 percent in 2008, with total revenues reaching €68 billion ($88.6 billion U.S.)

Metro Groups earnings (EBIT--earnings before interest and taxes) were up 7.1 percent in 2008, to €2.2 billion ($2.87     billion U.S.).

  • Metro Group has five major retail divisions:


    - Metro / Makro Cash & Carry
     - Real hypermarkets
    - Media Market and Saturn
    - Galeria Kaufhof department stores

Metro Cash & Carry with 122,814 employees is the Metro Group's largest division, accounting for 49 percent of all sales, or €33.1 billion ($43.12 U.S.).  Sales were up 4.6 percent in 2008 while profits (EBIT) increased 6.8 percent to €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion).  Metro Cash & Carry has 655 stores in total, with 126 in Germany, 91 in France, 48 in Italy, 34 in Spain and 33 in the United Kingdom.

Sales at the Metro Group's Real division were up 5.8 percent in 2008 to €11.6 billion ($15.1 billion) while profits (EDIT) reached €21 million ($27.4 million U.S.).  Real has 439 stores in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Metro Group workers in Germany are members of the United Services Union, Ver.di, which represents 140,000 workers in retail and wholesale stores chains including Metro Cash & Carry and Real.  The United Services Union, Ver.di, is one of the world's largest unions, with 2.4 million members in Germany.

Metro Group Says It Is Driven By

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility

"Around the world Metro Group stands for fair and equitable working conditions,"

Including the right to organize unions.

 

Carefully planned sustainability...


SUSTAINED HUMAN RESOURCES AND SOCIAL POLICIES

Around the world METRO Group stands for fair and equitable working conditions. It acknowledges the rights of all employees and is committed to diversity. The company promotes the social dialog and constructive industrial relations. Responsibility for sustained human resources and social policies lies with the corporate Human Resources division.



MAINTAINING INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND SOCIAL PARTNERSHIPS

METRO Group is committed to fair working conditions around the globe. To create a fair balance of interests between employer and employees, METRO Group encourages social dialog. It is committed to constructive social and industrial relations with its employees, organized and non-organized employee representatives, and the trade unions in all countries where it is active. METRO Group acknowledges the right to organized labor in the framework of the applicable national laws and regulations and maintains a trustful cooperation in all countries.


Metro Group, Sustainability Report 2004


From the Metro Group Website

 

United Kingdom Connection

There are 33 Metro Cash & Carry retail stores in the United Kingdom, which operate under the name Makro Cash & Carry.

Makro Cash & Carry in the United Kingdom owns several private labels, including Youkon and Authentic, both of which are produced under horrific sweatshop conditions in Bangladesh.

Makro does not have to go through Metro Group headquarters in Germany to outsource production, but rather Makro deals directly with Metro's overseas buying offices to arrange for contract production.

"Makro deals directly with the factories through the overseas MGB offices and utilizing the group buying opportunities we can consistently provide our customers with styles and quality they demand at low Makro prices."

Makro also offers "fashion brand names like Levi Signature, Hero by Wrangler...at up to half the recommended retail price."

 

Who Is the National Labor Committee?

The National Labor Committee (NLC) is an independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization registered in the United States.  The NLC is the leading anti-sweatshop organization in the country and is widely credited with having founded the U.S. anti-sweatshop movement.

The NLC's groundbreaking work has been widely covered in the U.S. media-including on CBS "60 Minutes,"  NBC Nightly News and "Dateline,"  ABC News and Nightline, CNN, National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Washington Post and many other major media outlets.

The NLC's director, Charles Kernaghan, has frequently testified before the U.S. Congress, both the House and the Senate, documenting horrific sweatshop conditions in factories in Bangladesh, China, Jordan, India, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries producing goods for export to the U.S.  Kernaghan has lectured at over 100 universities across the U.S.

Recent NLC reports, campaign victories and media coverage can be found on the NLC website: 
www.nlcnet.org

 

How the Research Was Done

The National Labor Committee (NLC) has a long history in Bangladesh, dating back to 2001, of supporting and accompanying workers in their struggle to win their legal rights.  The NLC has brought several delegations of workers from Bangladesh to the U.S. for meetings with the American people.

While in Chittagong, Bangladesh in early February 2009, NLC representatives were approached by a local human rights activist accompanied by a group of factory workers seeking assistance.  A meeting was set up in a safe house and over the course of several hours we met with well over a dozen R.L. Denim workers.  Their accounts of the abusive and illegal sweatshop conditions at the R.L. Denim factory shocked even us.  We immediately helped set up a local network to continue the research.  Over the next two months, labels, time cards and photos were smuggled out of the factory.  From the U.S., we remained in daily contact with the local activists and researchers on the ground in Chittagong who carried out more than two dozen additional worker interviews.  There was constant dialogue back and forth as our questions were answered and additional documentation sought.

Our experience has shown that workers will only speak openly if they are in a safe house, surrounded by local human and labor rights activists whom they know, respect and trust-the very opposite of corporate monitoring.  Moreover, our experience has demonstrated that if separate interviews, with different groups of workers, are held over time, and the same answers and supporting documentation are reported, then one can put a very high level of trust in the research.

Other than the corporate research of R.L. Denim, its parent company, Jeans Express Ltd., and the Metro Group, all of the research in this report is based on worker interviews.