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Improvements Follow Strike at Walmart and JCPenney Sweatshop in Bahrain

July, 08 2014 Share

MRS Fashions Factory

Wal-Mart and JCPenney in Bahrain

Improvements Follow Strike at the MRS Fashions Factory in Bahrain

—But it cost hundreds of workers their jobs—

 

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2,000 guest workers at the MRS Fashions factory in Bahrain went on strike, winning a wage increase and return of their passports.  Wal-Mart and JCPenney must guarantee that all forcibly deported workers receive their full back wages and benefits.

  • Some 2,000 guest workers at MRS Fashions now have possession of their passports, which management had illegally confiscated and retained for years, following a strike by the workers and Institute intervention.

  • As of July 6, 2014, senior auditor from Wal-Mart was present at the MRS Fashions factory to investigate working conditions.

  • No one knows for certain how many foreign guest workers were forcibly deported or fled from the harsh conditions and excessive production goals at the MRS Fashions sweatshop in Bahrain.  The workers at the factory believe the total is several hundred. 

  • New guest workers are already arriving from Bangladesh to replace those who have been deported.

  • The guest workers won a modest wage increase of 8 Bahraini Dinar ($21.22).  This amounts to a raise of 10.7 percent, from BD75 ($198.91) to BD83 ($220.13) per month.

  • Management had to backtrack on imposing a higher production goal of 2,200 garments per line per shift.  The guest workers fought for and won the continuation of their production goal of 2,100 pieces per line during each 10-hour work shift.

  • Relations with management are less confrontational now.  According to workers, “The bosses are relatively better now.”

  • Food service has also been significantly improved.
Workers met every evening during the strike at the men's dorm.

 

 

Human Trafficking of Guest Workers
For Years, MRS Workers Were Stripped of their Passports

As soon as the 2,000 guest workers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar arrived at the immigration desk in Bahrain, they were told “give me your passports.”  They had no choice but to surrender their passports, which would not be returned until they left for home.

Right from the start the workers were misled.  They had been told that their regular shift would be eight hours a day, six days a week.  Instead, once they reached the MRS Fashions factory, they were ordered to toil 10-hour shifts—with no overtime pay—six days a week, working “regular” workweeks of 60-plus hours.

The workers had to be careful.  Any guest worker who raised their voice against daily problems could be immediately deported.  The workers told us, “Deportations are part of the administrative rules.  They are cruel.”

The guest workers faced constant pressure to produce.  They often had to cut five or ten minutes off their 30-minute lunch breaks just to catch up to their production goal, while making limited use of the toilets.  They were often cursed at for falling behind on their production goals.  No sick days were allowed.  At the very most, sick workers could take just one or two hours off, but were then ordered to go back to their line.

In the first week of June 2014, MRS Fashions management increased the production goal from 2,100 pairs of denim jeans to 2,200 in the 10-hour shift.  The workers protested this, explaining, “It is beyond our capacity.”

MRS Fashions factory in Bahrain.

 

Workers Strike

On June 10, 2014, the workers went out on a five-day strike.  The workers stayed put in their dorms.  They were adamant that they would not go back to work until the 2,100 piece rate was reinstated.

The workers won the strike, but management and police had already started forcibly deporting 11 of the most outspoken workers from India and Bangladesh.  Police took the 11 workers to the airport at 6:00 p.m. on June 20 and the Bangladeshi workers arrived in Dhaka at 9:00 p.m. the following day.

The workers went on strike demanding a wage increase to BD150 ($398) a month including incentive bonuses.   

They also demanded better quality food, proper medical treatment, and end to mistreatment by the police, including harassment and threats of deportation.

Inside the MRS Fashions factory.

 

After the June Strike,
the Guest Workers of MRS Fashion
s Will Earn Slightly More
Up to $346 a Month

In January 2014, MRS Fashions management raised the monthly wage to BD75 ($198.93.)  Following the workers’ strike in June, management agreed to a wage increase of another BD8 ($21.22) a month.

In addition, workers can earn a weekly incentive of BD11 ($29.18) — or up to another $126.43 a month for making the daily production goal of 2,100 pieces.

The most productive workers will be able to earn up to $346.58 a month, or $79.98 a week.  Realistically, the guest workers tell us, they can routinely earn between BD90 and BD120—between $238.76 and $318.29 a month, which would come to between $55.09 and $73.45 a week. 

 

  Wal-Mart “Faded Glory” Denim Jeans
Made in MRS Fashions Sweatshop in Bahrain

Two thousand guest workers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are paid just 19.7 cents for each pair of Wal-Mart denim jeans they sew at the MRS Fashions factory in Bahrain.  Workers are allotted just 12.86 minutes to complete each pair of Wal-Mart jeans.

 

JCPenney Denim Jeans
Made in a Sweatshop in Bahrain

Foreign guest workers in Bahrain are allowed just 18.86 minutes to complete a pair of JCPenney denim jeans, for which the guest workers are paid just 28.9 cents each.  Each production line of 66 workers must produce 2,100 pairs of pants during their shift of 10-plus hours, six days a week. 

 

 

Dorm Conditions

When Bangladeshi guest workers arrived at the MRS Fashions factory in late December 2011, the workers shared huge dorm rooms filled with bunk beds housing over 100 workers each.

By mid-2012, the company had rented newer “apartments,” with eight workers sharing each room, sleeping in four double-level bunk beds.

Each worker is provided with:  A blanket, a pillow, a mattress, and a pair of sheets.

Both dorms and workshops are air conditioned, necessary given Bahrain’s excessive heat.

Workers sleep eight to a room. Each new worker is issued sheets, a blanket, a pillow and a mattress pad.


Long Days

MRS Fashions workers told us, “Time is always chasing us, as we have to race to reach our production goals.”  Workers learn quickly to drink less water so they won’t have to go to the bathroom.  In the same vein, it is common for workers to miss at least part of their tea break in an effort to reach their production goal.  The same often happens at lunch, when workers are cheated of five or ten minutes of their supposed 30-minute break—time for which they are not paid.  Moreover, it is common for the workers to have to remain for an additional 20 or 30 minutes after the end of their shift at 6:00 p.m.  Management squeezes the guest workers in every way possible.


Dayshift Work Schedule

        7:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Work, 5 ¼ hours

12:15 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Lunch, 30 minutes

12:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Work, 3 hours

3:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. 15-minute Break

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Work, 2 hours

There are just two breaks in the 11-hour shift—30 minutes for lunch and a 15-minute tea break.  If production falls behind, which happens often, workers will be forced to cut part of their break time to return to work.
 

 

Guest workers at MRS Fashions toil 11 hours a day, six days a week in alternating day and night shifts.

 

 

MRS Fashions Factory in Bahrain Producing for Wal-Mart and JCPenney

Money Owed to Forcibly Deported Workers

Workers ending their employment in Bahrain must be paid:

  1. “Settlement” money:  A severance pay equal to 15 days average pay per year worked.
  2. If company terminates contract early, worker believe they must be paid 3 months wage.
  3. “Earned leave”:  Payment in lieu of vacation of 21 days per year.


We interviewed Three Bangladeshi workers who were falsely imprisoned and forcibly deported:

Saifu Uddin 459BD minus 24BD paid to him = 435BD
(216BD settlement + 3-months wage 200BD + earned leave 43BD)
OWED $1153.77
Md. Alamin 440BD owed minus 115BD paid to him = 325BD
(197 BD settlement + 3-months wage, 200BD + earned leave 43BD)
OWED $862.01
Md. Raton Pramanik 440BD owed minus 114BD paid to him = 326BD
(197 BD settlement money+ 3-months wage=200BD+ earned leave 43BD)
OWED $864.66


Five workers fled the factory due to threats and harsh treatment—and expect their proper final pay:

Mahabbub Alam Irul 440BD owed minus 110BD paid to him = 330BD
(197 BD settlement + 3-months wage, 200BD + earned leave 43BD)

OWED $875.27

Safikor Rahman 459BD owed minus 102BD paid to him = 357BD
(216BD settlement + 3-months wage, 200BD + earned leave 43BD)
OWED $946.89
Md. Giash Uddin 440BD owed minus 106BD paid to him = 334BD
(197 BD settlement + 3-months wage, 200BD + earned leave 43BD)
OWED $885.88
Nasir Uddin 459BD owed minus 140BD paid him = 319BD OWED $846.07
Anowar 440 BD owed, he was given nothing.            OWED $1,166.99


 

Human Trafficking in Bahrain: 14 Workers Still Imprisoned at MRS Fashions Factory. June 28, 2014.