On 6 February 2014, a British based news channel known as ITV aired an hour long documentary exposing frightening conditions in some of Bangladesh’s worst sweatshops in downtown Mirpur, Dhaka.
Cramped behind the “Purobi Cinema Hall” in Mirpur Section 7, a ready made garment factory named Olira Fashions Limited was discovered to employ workers as young as 13 years of age – an act which is clearly against the labor law of Bangladesh. A factory without proper fire safety mechanisms, unbearably long hours, irregular overtime payments and over-crowded working space was found to be manufacturing for some of UK’s biggest fashion brands e.g. Lee Cooper Jeans.
In one of the scenes, a supervisor named Hridoy is shown slapping a young under-aged girl forcefully on her face in an effort to make her work faster,
Apart from Olira Fashions Limited, the documentary also takes its viewer to Vase Apparels Limited which is also located at the Mirpur region of Dhaka, in the Senparaparbata area. According to the documentary, Vase Apparels Limited is shown to be producing for Southbay (JD Williams) and BHS Shirts (Arcadia Group), in appalling safety conditions. Not only do they lock the fire exits, this factory is also situated on top of two restaurants, wrapped in overhanging wires, above shops and crowded footpaths.
Apart from JD Williams, no other brand came forward in their initial statement acknowledging the ignorance and promising for better performance with regard to selecting proper factories in Bangladesh which are much more complaint than the sweatshops offering super cheap clothing. After Rana Plaza it is clear that the compensation to make a t-shirt dirt cheap would be the life of a worker who made it.
The undeniable images of workers being forced, beaten, verbally abused, over worked, paid less and continuation of the practice of poor safety precautions and existence of child labor only makes us go for some soul searching and question ourselves if we really have checked all the reasons why such malpractices occur.
It is true that working conditions need to be better, safety must be the highest priority along with suitable working conditions according the the Bangladesh Labor Law. Still, it does cost money. The tight deadlines backed by the fearing of a consignment getting rejected on foreign port if it misses the deadline to reach the buyer’s shores push factory owners here to push their limits and also the limit of their workers.The buyers speak about improvement but not actually want to come forward and invest in social and safety conditions of the workers. Should only the factory owner’s be responsible the condition of garment workers in Bangladesh? Or are factory owners also workers for the bigger multinational of global brand which gives it contracts and keep it running to support production? Whatever the answer, the problem does not only belong to the factory, but the brands must and have to share responsibility.
As per the documentary, 2 undercover investigators went inside the factories with secret filming devise, risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones if by any chance something would go wrong. They prepared for the worse case scenario by not thinking about it, and brought the world to a standstill.
The documentary is a must watch for students of business as well as activists and researchers, as well as consumers of fashion or luxury products. The videos of worker beating and verbal abuse testifies to the truth of reports and researches used by international organization to demand positive change in our biggest and most important sector.