November 1, 2001

Shah Makhdum Garments Factory-- Preliminary Report

     Disney sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh

November 2001

The full February 2002 report

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Maternity Leave Campaign

Link to New York Times coverage

Link to Shah Makhdum Tour 2002


  • Standard 12-to-14-hour shift, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m
  • Once a week—sometimes more—mandatory all-night 19-to-20-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. the following day. Afterwards workers sleep on the factory floor.

  • Seven-day workweek: No regularly scheduled weekly holidays. Workers generally get one or two days off a month.

  • Forty-six to 50 overtime hours per week—a 98-hour workweek.


A Bangladeshi woman worker. 2001


  • Sewers earn 13 to 17 cents an hour. Helpers are paid 6 cents an hour and 47 cents a day.

  • Workers cheated out of overtime pay.

  • Workers paid just 4 cents for every $17.99 Disney Pooh shirt they sew. Wages amount to one-fifth of one percent of the retail price of the garment.

  • Workers beaten for questioning wages.

  • Workers fired for having gray hairs —told that Disney does not want old workers.

  • Maternity leave denied. No time off. No maternity benefits.

  • Only one stairway to enter and exit the factory—might be inadequate to handle 650 workers desperately trying to escape the factory at once during an emergency, such as a fire.

  • Factory is crowded, hot and poorly ventilated.

  • Unsafe drinking water.

  • Workers need permission to use the bathroom. Only 6 toilets for 400 women.

  • Talking is strictly prohibited.

  • No sick days allowed.

  • Along with occasionally striking the young workers, supervisors routinely humiliate and threaten the workers, yelling and shouting at them.

  • Legal severance not paid.

  • Disney Code of Conduct totally meaningless: No worker had ever seen or heard of these codes. Workers were, however, threatened and instructed to lie to American and European buyers, saying all their rights were respected.

  • Total denial of Freedom of Association: Every worker agreed that management would never allow a union. They tried to organize in 1998 but everyone was immediately fired, leaving workers very afraid. The company uses spies—workers would be


Bangladeshi factory workers. 2001

Shah Makhdum Garments Ltd.

72/B Malibagh Chowdhury Para
Dhaka 1219, Bangladesh
Telephone: 02-414503


Chairman: Mr. Bickis Jahan

Number of workers: 650. 62% women (400 women, 250 men)

Production: Shirts, ladies' blouses, jackets

Labels: Disney/Pooh (RN # 55219). In May, the workers estimated that 60 percent of the factory's production was for Disney/Pooh. Disney work had been in the factory for at least the last year and a half.



Forced overtime resulting in standard 12-to-14 hour shift from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. At least once a week, mandatory, all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. the following day. Up to 50 hours overtime a week—a 98-hour workweek.

The standard shift at the Shah Makhdum Garments factory is from 12 to 14 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 or 10:00 p.m.

14-hour shift:

  • 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. work (5 hours)

  • 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. lunch (1 hour) 

  • 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. work (6 hours)

  • 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. break (15 minutes)

  • 8:15 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. work (1.75 hours)

However, once a week—or sometimes more—there are mandatory all-night 19-to-20-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. right through till 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. the following day. Afterwards, the workers sleep on the factory floor for two or three hours and begin work again at 8:00 a.m. Such all-night shifts are obligatory when orders need to be finished so shipments can go out. In May 2001, there were nine such mandatory all-night shifts for the sewing operators, or more than two a week. However, in the button section, the workers were forced to stay for 15 all-night shifts in May, which was more than three 19-to-20-hour shifts a week!

A seven-day workweek at the factory is routine. There are no regularly scheduled weekly holidays, but the workers generally receive one or two rest days off per month. For example, in April, the workers were allowed just one day off all month, but were permitted two days off in May.

The workers report being forced, on average, to work 200 overtime hours a month, meaning they are working 41 to 50 hours of overtime a week. This means they are working 98 hours a week.



Below-subsistence wages: Sewers earn 13 to 17 cents an hour, while helpers are paid just 6 cents an hour or 47 cents a day.

A senior operator at the Shah Makhdum factory with at least five or six years' experience as a sewer, earns 2,000 taka a month or $38.84, which amounts to 17 cents an hour.

Senior operator's wage:

" 17 cents an hour

" $1.34 a day (8 hours)

" $8.04 a week (6 days / 48 hours)

" $34.84 a month

" $418.12 a year

However, women generally appear to be paid less than the men. For example, one very bright and competent young woman with full six years' experience as a sewing operator earned just 14 cents an hour, $6.63 a week, and $28.75 a month, to do the exact same work the men did.

A junior operator, with less than 5 years' experience, is paid 1,500 taka a month, or $26.13, which comes to 13 cents an hour.

Junior operator's wage:
" $13 cents an hour ($0.12563655)

$1.01 a day (8 hours)

$6.03 (6 days / 48 hours)

$26.13 a month

" $313.59 a year


Bangladeshi women outside of their homes.

Here too, we found discrimination against women. One young woman who had worked as a sewer at the Shah Makhdum factory for three years, was paid just 900 taka a month, or $15.68, which amounts to only $3.62 a week, or 8 cents an hour.

Helpers—14, 15, 16, and 17-year-olds—working the same grueling hours seven days a week, supplying the production lines and cleaning the office of loose threads, are paid just 700 taka a month or $12.20, which comes to only 6 cents an hour, and 47 cents a day!

Helper's wage:

6 cents an hour ($0.05863)

47 cents a day (8 hours)

$2.81 a week (6 days / 48 hours)

$12.20 a month

$146.34 a year

Paying the helpers just 700 taka a month blatantly violates Bangladesh's law, which sets the minimum wage in the country at 930 taka, or $16.20 (which itself does not come close to meeting basic survival needs). Shah Makhdum should at least be paying its helpers the legal minimum wage.

Legal Minimum Wage in Bangladesh

(920 taka a month)

 U.S. Dollar

Bangladeshi Taka 

 8 cents an hour 

 4.47 taka an hour

 62 cents a day (8 hours)

 35.77 taka a day

 $3.74 a week (6 days / 48 hours)

 214.62 taka a week

 $16.20 a month

 930 taka a month

 $194.43 a year 

 11,160 taka a year

Wages at the Shah Makhdum factory are routinely paid 10 days late. Instead of receiving, for example, the month of July's wage on August 1, the workers are not paid until August 10. Overtime is paid three weeks late. Even more serious, however, is that the workers report being systematically shortchanged on their wages by supervisors who purposefully underreport the actual number of overtime hours worked. Instead of writing down "10:00 p.m." on a worker's timesheet, which is when the workers actually leave, the supervisors routinely write in "7:00 p.m.," thereby cheating the worker out of several hours of overtime pay a day.

When we reviewed their overtime wages with the workers, something was seriously wrong. Among the highest monthly wages we saw—including the 48 regular hours of work and all the overtime—was one for 2,600 taka for the month, or $45.30, which would come to $10.45 a week. Since the regular operator's wage for the 48-hour standard workweek is $8.04, this means the worker earned just $2.41 for the overtime hours worked. At the Shah Makhdum factory they never worked less than 23 overtime hours a week, so even if we use this very conservative estimate, the worker was being paid just 10 cents an hour for overtime. If we use the average workweek, with 46 hours of overtime, the worker was being paid just 5 cents an hour for overtime!

Questioning hours or wages at the factory is not permitted. One young woman who did so—as we will discuss later—was beaten.

  • Workers paid just 4 cents for every $17.99 Disney/Pooh shirt they sew. Wages amount to only 1/5th of one-percent of the shirt's retail price.
  • Factory management sets a production goal of 1,800 Pooh shirts for each assembly line of 40 workers to complete in 11 working hours. If we take the highest sewer's wage in the factory—17 cents an hour—then in 11 hours an operator earns $1.8425. This payroll for the day for all 40 workers would then be $73.70. In this same 11 hour period, these 40 workers turn out $32,382 worth of Disney/Pooh shirts (1800 x $17.99 =$32,382). Using these figures, we can document that the direct labor cost to sew each shirt is just 4 cents (.1675 x 11 hours=$1.8425 x 40 = $73.70÷$32,382 = .002275755 x $17.99 = .04074443)! This means that the sewers' wages amount to just 1/5th of one percent of the retail price of the Pooh shirt.

On the one hand, this clearly documents enormous exploitation—wages accounting for just 1/5th of one-percent of the retail price. On the other hand, it proves how easy it would be for Disney to raise the wages so the workers could climb out of abject misery, with very little or no added cost to the price of the garments.

Bangladeshi garment workers. 2001

Abuses at the Shah Makhdum Factory

  • No maternity leave: In a practice that is clearly disturbing and illegal, the Shah Makhdum factory does not provide maternity leave or benefits, despite the fact that Bangladesh's law requires a three-month maternity leave with full pay. At the Shah Makhdum Factory, expecting mothers are forced to take whatever unpaid, brief leave they can afford — since the factory does not pay a cent of maternity benefits—and even then, upon their return to work, their job is not guaranteed.
  • Fire safety: There is only one stairway to enter and exit the factory, which might prove tragically inadequate in case of a fire or other emergency, when 650 workers would be forced to flee the building at the same time.

  • The factory is crowded, hot, and poorly ventilated.

  • Workers need permission to use the bathroom, and must first reserve a card from their supervisor. At the maximum they can use the bathroom two to three times in a 14-hour shift. There are only 6 toilets for 400 women or just one toilet for every 67 workers.

  • No sick days permitted: No matter how ill a worker is, the factory never grants a sick day off with pay. One worker, who had been employed in the ironing department at the Shah Makhdum Factory for eight years, was fired and beaten for daring to take two days off because of a seriously swollen foot. In the ironing department the workers are on their feet all day, up to 14 hours a shift, which with his infected foot he could not do. All he asked for was two days off to rest his foot—instead he got fired, beaten, and cheated of his back wages and severance pay.

  • Talking is prohibited: "Offenders" will have their pay docked and/or be beaten.Talking among employees during working hours is strictly prohibited. If caught, supervisors shout and curse at the young workers, yelling that they must "shut up". If caught a second time, and they may be marked down as absent by the supervisor, which means they will lose their entire day's pay for the 14-hour shift.

Being heard questioning hours and wages can get you beaten. One young woman, a sewing operator, who was perhaps 18 years old, told us that she was overheard by her supervisor, saying to another worker that they were not being paid properly, or enough, for all the hours they were working. The supervisor ran at her and started punching her hard in the back with his fists, cursing, and shouting at her to keep her mouth shut. This was the second time she had recently been hit.

  • Fired for having a gray hair: One worker we met from the Shah Makhdum Factory told us that the manager and supervisors were constantly pressuring her, being abusive, rude, and trying to humiliate her in order to drive her to quit. They kept whispering to her: "It is time for you, old lady, to retire—you're too old for the work now."


The week before, they had fired her best friend for having a gray hair. The supervisors told that fired woman that Disney will not allow old gray-haired women working on its clothing. The woman was 36 years old and the factory wanted to replace her with a younger, cheaper, more energetic teenager.

Now it was her turn. She was 35 years old. The factory wanted to get rid of her and they did not want any questions or problems with severance pay, hence they wanted her to quit. The woman was in complete despair when we met her. Every day, the supervisors told her she was "useless," "used up," "no good for anything," and only "fit to retire," that "sooner or later [she] will have to go, so why not now," and on and on. It would only be a matter of time before she cracked.

  • Unsafe drinking water: The factory provides neither purified nor bottled water, leaving the workers no choice but to drink the filthy tap water, which is a source of constant diarrhea and stomach infections.

  • Shah Makhdum management does not pay the legally mandated severance when the workers leave the factory.

  • Freedom of Association 100% denied: Every worker reported that factory management would never tolerate a union, despite the fact that the workers have the right under Bangladeshi law to organize, free of repression. In 1998, the workers did attempt to organize a union, but everyone involved was immediately fired. The atmosphere in the factory was one of fear. Everyone agreed, if management ever found out that they had met with a human rights organization from the United States, they would be fired. Management paid some workers a slightly higher wage to spy on the rest of the workers. Most of the workers are from rural areas, where unemployment is devastatingly high. So they have come to Dhaka to find work, and they are desperate. Perhaps only 10 percent of the workers can even read. They are in a trap, stripped of their rights.

  • Disney Code of Conduct totally meaningless: No worker we spoke with had even heard of Disney's corporate Code of Conduct—let alone seen one posted in the factory. No one had any idea what these Codes were, or how these codes were supposed to help guarantee their rights. However, the workers report being threatened and coached to lie, should a North American buyer ever approach them. If they want to keep their jobs, they must report that everything is fine, that all their rights are respected, that they are paid on time and properly, and that in the factory, all laws are respected.

  • The workers knew when foreigners were visiting, since they had to wash and clean the factory. Also, they had to clean out a storage room, so it could become a "daycare center" for a few days.