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Child Workers Fired from Harvest Rich

December, 01 2006 Share

In response to reports by the NLC and Channel 4 News in England, exposing the exploitation of child labor at the Harvest Rich factory in Bangladesh—where clothing is sewn for Wal-Mart, Hanes, Tesco, j.c. Penney, Puma and Marks and Spencer—Harvest Rich management did what they usually do.  On October 19, they fired the child workers and told them to get lost.  But that same night, Harvest Rich received a letter from the National Labor Committee stating that we wanted the retaliatory firings stopped immediately, and that we would continue to closely monitor the factory. At that point, Harvest Rich management had to switch course.  It re-hired many of the child workers and began referring to them as malnourished adults, who only looked like children.  At the same time, thugs connected to the factory fanned out across the worker neighborhoods threatening the child workers and their parents to lie about their ages.  Shortly afterward, almost overnight, 13-year-old children were converted into 18 and 19-year-olds.  This was done to please the U.S. and U.K. buyers.

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The day after the October 19 firings, the NLC interviewed several of the child workers who were let go.  Here is what they told us:

Ratna is a 13-year-old girl who worked at the Harvest Rich factory:
 

"Yesterday morning [October 19] I went to work at the factory.  They called me after I had worked one hour.  They took away my identity card telling me that I am under-age.  I came back home, as they told me to do that"  [Management] asked us to quit the factory" They asked me to come again on Sunday to pick up my salary" Many workers...at least 20 or 30 workers were also fired after being told the same thing."

Thirteen-year-old Ratna also confirmed the routine abuses and violations at Harvest Rich.

Routine 12-to-14-hour shifts:  Before Ramadan "the factory ended at 8:00 or 10:00 p.m. and sometimes later at night."

All-night, 19-hour shifts:  Some days""I work until 8:00 or 10:00 p.m. [and from] 10:00 p.m. for the night shift to 3:00 a.m."  Afterward, "we go to sleep.  Some stay in the factory and others go back home."  Those that stay, "sleep where they work."

Beatings and abuse:  Asked how she and the other workers were treated at Harvest Rich, Ratna responds:  "Very badly, that is beyond our tolerance.  They shout at us, utter abusive words I cannot express and beat us.  It is natural that we may make mistakes.  For any mistake they do it [beat us]"" Six or seven days back, "a girl named Piya was slapped because she made mistakes."

Cheated on overtime pay:  Ratna was very clear that their mandatory overtime was "not paid correctly." It is the same with Fridays.  When they are forced to work on their weekly day off, it's considered "general duty," and they are not paid the legal overtime wage.  This month, Ratna says, the workers worked "two Fridays"but they didn't pay us overtime—it's treated as general duty."  (Note:  The factory was also open on Friday, October 20.)  "If we work until 8:00 p.m., we are not paid one hour of overtime."

Filthy toilets:  "Yes we do" need permission to use the toilet "... The toilets are filthy"There is nothing"—no toilet paper, no soap or towels.  The workers are limited to "no more than two to three times [visits] a day."

Thirteen-year-olds return home at 10:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight:  "When the factory closes at 8:00 p.m., we return home at 10:00 p.m., when it closes at 10:00 p.m., we get back home at 12:00 midnight.  I feel very bad.  I feel very tired.  My body does not allow me to do anything."  Ratna explains that she goes to sleep "at 12:00 or 1:00 a.m. and gets up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning.  I set out [for work] at 6:30 in the morning."

Harvest Rich deducts 200 taka a month from the workers:  For transportation, "they charge me 200 taka a month.  [But] we don't always get the company bus, there are too many workers and they [try to] fit two buses of workers into one bus" The transportation facilities are inadequate compared to the number of workers."

Ratna went through 4th grade:  When asked, Ratna, who studied through 4th grade, said, "Yes.  I would love to go back to school."

 By the way, according to Harvest Rich management, Ratna is now "19 to 19.5 years."  Overnight she became a malnourished adult.

 Back to the top.  

Thirteen-year-old Sumon was also fired on Thursday, October 19:

 

Watch a video of Sumon discussing conditions at the Harvest Rich factory, including long hours and beatings.

"Yesterday [October 19], I went to the factory at 8:00 a.m.  After working an hour, at 9:00 a.m., the timekeeper came and asked me to go to his section.  He kept my timecard saying that I was under-aged and not eligible for work.  Then he asked me to come on Sunday to receive my wage.  He didn't give me my gate pass."

Sumon estimates that in his department "approximately 30 to 45 workers like me" were similarly fired.  "They confiscated the workers' ID cards and told them to come on Sunday to receive their wages." Asked if he thought they were all fired, Sumon responded, "It seems like that, as we are stripped of our ID cards, how would we work here?"

Sumon again confirmed the numerous gross violations including the routine beatings:

Workers slapped:  Asked if the workers are ever slapped or beaten, Sumon responded, "Yes.  For example, if we are behind the production goal, we are beaten, or workers are put on a table standing and holding their ears as punishment.  Even now if workers fail to meet the target, they repeat these same [punishments]."

Sumon was again punished on Tuesday, October 17.  "It took place on the day before yesterday.  They made me hold my ears.  I was told to stand up on the stool holding my ears because I failed to make the production target.  I could make only 50 pieces an hour, but they told me to make 60 pieces."  Sumon had to perch on the stool for "half an hour" and said he felt "very bad."  It was "the line chief" who made him do this.  We asked, what would happen if he protested?  "If I protest, the floor chief would call names and even further beat me."

Seven day workweeks:   "Last month we worked three Fridays"even during Ramadan, we worked two Fridays as general duty."

Unsafe drinking water:  The drinking water may be unsafe.  "Last month I suffered from diarrhea twice from drinking this water."

 According to Harvest Rich management, Sumon is all of a sudden "19 to 20 years" old.  He too becomes another malnourished adult.

Back to the top.

Mamun is a 12-year-old boy who says he sewed Tesco pants at the Harvest Rich factory.

 

Left: Badal; Right: Mamun

"My name is Mamun. I am 12 years old. I work at Harvest Rich."

Mamun earns "1,600 taka" a month working as an "operator" doing "thread cutting and side-joining""on "pants." Mamun said, "Tesco [was the] buyer."

12-year old Mamun's Wage
(1,600 taka a month)

11 cents an hour
88 cents a day (8 hours)
$5.28 a week (6 days, 48 hours)
$22.87 a month
$274.48 a year

(Note: There are now 69.95 taka to $1 US)

 

Mamun was also fired on Thursday, October 19. "I was working in the morning. Then the buyer came to me. They took my picture. The supervisor took me to a room and confiscated my ID. He told me that I was a little worker and that I better go home. Later with my friends I took my 10 day's salary." Mamun estimated that up to a dozen other child worker were similarly fired in his section.

12-year-old Mamun was also beaten.

"Yes, I was beaten. One and a half months ago, for making mistakes. The supervisor"slapped me, very strongly."

Forced to work 19 and 20-hour shifts

Before Ramadan, "we worked from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and then overtime until 8:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. " and night shifts." The workers are also cheated on their overtime. "If we work three hours, they pay us only two." In September, 12-year-old Mamun was forced to work "four night shifts"sometimes, it ends at 3:00 a.m., sometimes at 4:00 a.m." Afterwards, "we sleep on the floor and again start working at 8:00 a.m. in the morning." Back to the top.

12-year-old Badal, who earned just 13 cents an hour, was fired from Harvest Rich on October 19, along with the other child workers.
 

"My name is Badal. I am twelve."  Badal works as an "operator," "sewing the side of pants," for "1,900 taka" a month.  Badal has no idea what label he sews.

Badal—paid 13 cents an hour
(1,900 taka a month)

13 cents an hour
$1.04 a day (8 hours)
$6.27 a week (6 days, 48 hours)
$27.16 a month
$325.95 a year

 

He was fired like the other child workers. "Thursday, I was working at 9:00 a.m. The supervisor took me from my machine and asked for my ID card. He told me that I should go out [of the factory] as my work is very bad as well as I am underage. I asked what I should do before Eid. He told me that I should take my pay. They gave me 10 days' salary and the rest would be paid after Eid."

"Many workers"were told the same story—as they are child workers, they have to go." Back to the top.

13-year old Kamal was also fired on October 19
 

"My name is Kamal. I am 13." Kamal says he works "on the 2nd floor at the Harvest Rich factory. We make pants there. I am a helper. I cut the threads." Kamal earns "1,400 taka" a month.

Kamal earns just 9 ½ cents an hour
(1,400 taka a month)

9 ½ cents an hour
77 cents a day (8 hours)
$4.62 a week (6 days, 48 hours)
$20.01 a month
$240.17 a year

Kamal was fired along with the other child workers.

"It was Thursday, October 19. I was working at the factory. At 9:00 a.m. a buyer silently approached me and took me to a room. He wanted me to show my identity card. Then he told me that I was an underage worker and I should go home. I was told to take my salary when the management would pay me."

They "gave me 10 day's salary. They told me to come to the factory after Eid [on Saturday, October 28]. Then they would pay the remaining salary." Back to the top.

Fourteen-year-old Babul was told he is "too little" and was also fired on October 19.

 

Left: Babul, Right: Badal

"My name is Babul. I am 14 years old. I work at Harvest Rich"I am an operator"I join the sides of pants. My salary is 2,700 taka [a month]." Babul does not know the name of the buyer.

Babul paid 19 cents an hour
(2,700 taka a month)

19 cents an hour
$1.48 a day (8 hours)
$8.91 a week (6 days, 48 hours)
$38.60 a month
$463.19 a year

 

Fired on October 19 with the other child workers:

"I went to work on Thursday. While I was working in the factory, a buyer came and took my photograph. The supervisor told me that I was too little and I should go out [of the factory]. He took my ID card." They wanted me to come to the factory to take the rest of my salary when it reopens. They gave me 10 day's salary." Back to the top.

 

Back to the Harvest Rich Child Labor Update.

Back to the NLC report on Harvest Rich.