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Interview with Sumon

September, 12 2006 Share

Interview with a Child Worker sewing for Hanes 

Bangladesh, 9/12/2006

Sumon, 13 years old

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Sumon

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NLC: We are going to ask you about your work, okay?

SUMON: Okay.

NLC: What is your name?

SUMON: My name is Sumon.

NLC: Where do you work?

SUMON: I work with underwear.

NLC: In which factory? What's the name of the factory?

SUMON: Harvest Rich Limited.

NLC: How long have you worked there?

SUMON: I have been working for Harvest Rich for 4 months.

NLC: What is your job?

SUMON: I am an operator. My job is to sew.

NLC: [Is it] an export factory or is that a domestic factory?

SUMON: Yes, [it's] for export.

NLC: But it wasn't Harvest Rich?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Do you remember the name of the factory?

SUMON: Nipa garments.

NLC: And so you are a sewing operator and you make underwear?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Do you recognize this garment?

SUMON  is given a pair of Hanes underwear.

SUMON takes Hanes underwear and studies it.

Sumon  inspecting Hanes underwear

SUMON: Yes, I work on this type of underwear.

NLC: But is it exactly the same or is it similar?

SUMON: Exactly [the same].

NLC: Do you recognize the name on the label?

SUMON checks the label.

SUMON: The label is like this [one].

NLC: So, you actually worked directly on those underpants? On underpants exactly like this?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Was it the same color or was it a different color?

SUMON: There were many colors.

NLC: But did you actually work on this blue color?

SUMON: I also work on this.

NLC: And what exactly is your job, sewing the bottom?

SUMON: [inaudible]

NLC: And what is the production quota?

SUMON: 120 pieces an hour.

NLC: Is that easy to do? Is it possible?

SUMON: It's not so hard. We can make it.

NLC: So, is there a lot of pressure on the workers or is it easy, the factory?

SUMON: There is much pressures on us to produce.

NLC: Like what? Do they yell at the workers or what happens? How are you pressured and how are the rest of the workers pressured?

SUMON: We are to make this product and if we don't make it, they beat us. They cut our overtime [pay] and sometimes we have to work until 10 or 12 or they don't give us any food or refreshments.

NLC: Have you ever been hit or slapped?

SUMON: They beat me. And for the last 2 days the supervisor has not [paid me].

NLC: How did they beat you and when did they beat you?

SUMON: Last Sunday.

NLC: Why? What happened?

SUMON: [They beat me] because I could not make the production target.

NLC: The production target was 120?

SUMON: Then, the target was 40 pieces. It was sleeping pants.

NLC: When you couldn't reach it, how many pieces could you make?

SUMON: We can make 35 to 40 pieces.

NLC: What happened exactly when you couldn't reach the target?

SUMON: They beat us and cut the overtime.

NLC: What did they exactly do to you? Did they hit you?

SUMON: They slapped my face and pushed my neck.

SUMON demonstrates where he was slapped.

NLC: Who did this?

SUMON: The person in charge of the floor.

NLC: Who?

NLC Hidden Camera Footage: Unknown Harvest Rich Workers, September 2006.

Hidden Camera

SUMON: Mr. Habib. The person in charge of the floor.

NLC: He's in charge of the floor?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: And did he slap you hard or was it a soft slap?

SUMON: Very hard.

SUMON slaps his leg very hard to show how the floor supervisor hit him.

NLC: Then he pushed you?

SUMON: Yes, then he pushed my neck.

NLC: Did he yell?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Saying what?

SUMON: He called me names. [He said], like, 'I f-- your mother.'

NLC: Does this happen every day in the factory or is this very rare?

SUMON: It's very common. If we cannot make the production target, if we don't listen to them " It happens. Frequently.

NLC: Within the last 2 weeks, how many times have you been slapped?

SUMON: In one week I was beaten twice.

NLC: Do you cry when you are hit? How do you react? Do you ask, 'Why are you doing this?'

SUMON: When they beat [me], I cry. Even when I ask, 'Why are you beating me?' Then again, they keep beating me hard.

NLC: They continue to beat you. When was the last time you worked on those underwear? Was it 2 weeks ago, a month ago?

< em>SUMON looks at the Hanes underwear again.

SUMON: [For the] last 3 weeks.

NLC: Are there other child workers, underage workers, in the factory?

SUMON: Yes, there are others.

NLC: About how many?

SUMON: In my line, 35 but I cannot say exactly how many.  But it seems to be around 30 or 35.

NLC: Are there any workers younger than you?

SUMON: I cannot say.

NLC: What are your wages?

SUMON: 2,100 taka.

NLC: What are your hours? When do you go into the factory? When do you take lunch?  When do you go home?

SUMON: I start working at 8 a.m. and we have lunchtime from 1:30 to 2:30. Sometimes we stand because there are many workers. When we have work, then they give us only a half-hour lunch break.

NLC: Sometimes you only get a half an hour? What time do you leave the factory?

SUMON: Sometimes we get out at 10, 10:30, 12 and when we cannot make the target, we have to work extra, but without pay.

NLC: When was the last time that you left the factory at 10 p.m.?

SUMON: Last Sunday and Monday I worked until 10 p.m.

NLC: What time do you get home?

SUMON: We get home around 11 if we [inaudible] 12, 12:30 at times.

NLC: What is the factory like, is there good air circulation, good ventilation, is there air conditioning, fans?

SUMON: There is no air conditioning. There is tube light, and a fan.

NLC: Is it cool or is it hot?

SUMON: Very hot.

NLC: Do you sweat during the daytime when you are working?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Can you use the bathroom when you need to or do you need permission?

SUMON: We have to get permission.

NLC: What would happen if you used the bathroom without permission?

SUMON: When you return from the bathroom, you get punishment. You get beaten.

NLC: What do you mean? Slapped or what?

SUMON: Sometimes they slap you and sometimes they punishment you [by making you] sit on a chair holding your ears.

SUMON sits on his chair with his knees to his chest and pulls his ears.

Sumon  demonstrates punishment

NLC: For how long?

SUMON: For half an hour.

NLC: Has this ever happened to you?

SUMON: Yes, it has happened to me.

NLC: And you have to do this in front of all the rest of the workers?

SUMON: Yes. In the middle of the workers.

NLC: And why do they do that? How does it feel? Why do they do that?

SUMON: We feel very hurt, because it is punishment.

NLC: And when you get permission to go to the bathroom, how many times can you go to the bathroom each day?

SUMON: 2 times a day maximum.

NLC: Do they monitor the time you spend in the bathroom?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: What happens if you take too long?

SUMON: They will call us names.

NLC: Can you describe the bathroom? Is it clean, is there toilet paper, or water, towels, soap?

SUMON: There is no toilet paper or towels. It is very dirty and filthy.

NLC: Have you ever been in the factory when monitors or buyers from North America or the United States have enter the factory?

SUMON: Yes, buyers have come to our factory.

NLC: Do they look like us? Do they come from the United States?

SUMON: Like you [white men].

NLC: What happens when the buyers come? Do the workers stay there?

SUMON: Many buyers come and they ask the child workers"

NLC: They ask them what?

SUMON: There are some posters up, and the buyers ask [the child workers] what the posters say.

NLC: And do you know what is on the poster?

SUMON: On the posters there is something about PUMA.

NLC: Do you know what it says?

SUMON: One thing I remember, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, all workers from all communities, they can all work there.

NLC: Does it say anything about how old you have to be to work?

SUMON: On the poster, it says that workers should be around 15 years old.

NLC: Do the buyers ever speak directly to you?

SUMON: No.

NLC: What would happen if a buyer asked you, if it did happen, how old you are?  What would you say?

SUMON: I would tell them my age, what it is. The actual one.

NLC: How old are you?

SUMON: 13 years and 6 months old. When buyers come, we are told to say that we are 18.

NLC: Do they ever put the child workers [away], hide them when the buyers come?

SUMON: Buyers come and they don't see the child workers.

NLC: Why? Where do they put the child workers?

SUMON: They send the child workers to the roof ... or somewhere else.

NLC: You say that sometimes they cut your overtime. What does that mean? You are working extra hours but not getting paid?

SUMON: We start at 8 in the morning [and work] until 5. [That] is general duty. And we work 2 more hours from 5 until 7. But if we cannot make the production, the two hours of overtime, they cut it. That means we don't get any overtime [pay], even though we have worked it.

NLC: So, they don't pay you for those 2 hours if you don't make the production goal?

SUMON: Yes. And also, when we work from 7 at night until 10 at night, 3 hours, they don't pay us 3 hours of overtime.

 Harvest Rich factory at night, Septmeber 2006.

Harvest Rich night shot

NLC: Do you have a time card?

SUMON: I do, but the supervisor hasn't given me one for the last 2 days.

NLC: Is the time card correct? Does it have accurate hours, when you leave?

SUMON: They only mark 2 hours if we work from 5 to 7, but past 7, they don't write anything.

NLC: Even if you work until 9 or 10 at night, it still says you left the factory at 7?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: What is the maximum salary that you make in a month, including overtime?

SUMON: 2,500 taka a month, including overtime and salary.

NLC: How much are you being cheated of? Can you estimate? Are you getting 100% correct overtime or are you getting 50% overtime?

SUMON: We cannot say exactly how much they are cutting from our overtime, or what percentage of our overtime pay we are getting.

NLC: You have been at the factory for 4 months?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Friday is the holiday. Do you get every Friday off?

SUMON: No. Now it is shipment time, so for the next 3 or 4 Fridays this month we will not get any days off.

NLC: So you'll work this whole month without a day off?

SUMON: They say that we are to work.

NLC: What are you making now? Is it this Hanes underwear?

Gives Sumon Hanes girl's thongs.

SUMON takes the underwear and looks at it.  

SUMON: It looks like this but bigger. This is a smaller one.

NLC: Do you recognize the label? Is it the Hanes label?

SUMON checks the label of the Hanes underwear.

SUMON: Yes, it looks like this.

NLC: When is the shipment going out? Do you know what date?

SUMON: [Still studying the Hanes underwear] I cannot say the date.

NLC: But have they told you that you will be working every Friday? How do you know that?

SUMON: It seems there is a shipment on the 23rd or 24th. So we know that we have overtime work.

NLC: Do they tell you ahead of time that you are going to have to work every Friday?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Yesterday, what time did you work until? Did you get out at 5 yesterday or did you have to work overtime?

SUMON: Yesterday I worked until 10.

NLC: Do they tell you ahead of time that you are going to be working until 10 or do you just get to the factory and find out that day that they have to work until 10?

SUMON: The same day they tell the workers that they have to be at the factory until 10, or sometime.

NLC: You sit on a chair with a back or do you sit on a stool with no back? Can you describe what you sit on?

SUMON: It's a stool.

NLC: With a back?

SUMON: No, there is no back.

NLC: Is there cushion?

SUMON: No.

NLC: When you go home at 10, are you exhausted?

SUMON: Yes. I feel very bad and I feel like some restlessness, uneasiness. I don't feel comfortable getting back home.

NLC: Why? Is it dangerous or are you just so tired?

SUMON: Because we work so hard the whole day and then we feel very tired at home.

NLC: They give you supper in the factory? When do they give you supper and refreshments?

SUMON: They don't provide any food at night, no supper.

NLC: Even when you work until 10, you don't get any supper?

SUMON: No. They don't provide any food now but sometime ago they provided some food.

NLC: Some months ago?

SUMON: 2 months ago.

NLC: What did they give you?

SUMON: Some refreshment and banana and cola.

NLC: And they don't do that any more?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Can workers speak to each other when you are at work, can you talk?

SUMON: They don't allow us to talk to each other while we work.

NLC: What happens, if they say you have to work until 10 and you say you have to go home, your mother is sick. Can you just go home? Is the overtime voluntary?

SUMON: Then they would get very angry and call us names. We have to listen to them. If they want us to stay, we have to stay, according to their order.

NLC: So it's not voluntary. It's obligatory that you stay?

SUMON: It's not voluntary. It is their decision.

NLC: Do you know where the clothing that you sew, where it goes to?

SUMON: I only know that it goes out of Bangladesh.

NLC: Do you know what country it goes to?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Hanes underwear goes to the United States. Have you ever seen an image of the United States?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Have you ever heard of a corporate code of conduct?

SUMON: No.

NLC: The Hanes company says to the American people that those garments, that underwear is made under very good conditions by workers whose rights are respected and who are paid good wages. Is this accurate, when the North American companies say this?

SUMON: Yes, they may say that to the American people, but here the company that what you said, it's not true. Maybe the Hanes company works through management here in Bangladesh but our management teaches differently.

NLC: Is the 2,000 taka that you earn, is that a good wage, can you live okay on that wage?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Who do you live with?

SUMON: I live with my parents, my father and mother.

NLC: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

SUMON: 3 sisters and brothers. 1 sister, 2 brothers.

NLC Hidden Camera Footage: Unknown girls going to work at Harvest Rich factory, September 2006.

Girls going to work at Harvest Rich

NLC: How old are they?

SUMON: I am the youngest. My sister is older than me and also my brothers are older.

NLC: Do they work in the garment factories?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Are they treated better?

SUMON: My brother works in momtax. It is better.

NLC: Can you describe your routine when you get up in the morning? What time do you get us? What do you do before you leave for work?

SUMON: I get up at 6 in the morning. I brush my teeth"

NLC: When you say that you get up and brush your teeth, how [do you brush your teeth]?

SUMON: With my finger.

NLC: And why do you use your finger?

SUMON: I use my finger with ashes from the fire.

NLC: Is it better? Why don't you have a toothbrush and toothpaste?

SUMON: I cannot afford to buy toothpaste and a toothbrush.

NLC: And when you say that you bathe, how? Is it in a shower or what is it like?

SUMON: I use a pump.

NLC: What do you eat for breakfast?

SUMON: Rice and some curry.

NLC: And do you drink juice for breakfast?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Is it too expensive?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: When was the last time you had a glass of orange juice or any kind of juice?

SUMON: 1 month ago.

NLC: At night when you get home, say at 11 o'clock, exhausted, having worked all day, do you have a big supper?

SUMON: Lentils and rice only.

NLC: Do you often have chicken or meat?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Maybe once a week or twice a week or how often can you eat meat or fish or chicken?

SUMON: Once a month. When we get paid.

NLC: What do you do for fun and entertainment?

SUMON: When Eid comes, then we have fun.

NLC: On Friday, when you have Friday off, do you have friends, do you go play soccer or what do you do on Friday if you get the Friday off?

SUMON: When I get a Friday off, I stay at home. I sleep. I only sleep when I get a day off. And I work around the home.

NLC: When was the last time you went to see a movie?

SUMON: I don't go to the movies.

NLC: Never?

SUMON: I only watch television, and movies on TV but I have never been to a theater or cinema hall.

NLC: You have a television in the house?

SUMON: No. We go to someone else's house to watch television.

NLC: And do you have a bicycle, do you ride bikes together with your friends?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Don't you ever go out to play soccer?

SUMON: I sometimes play football [soccer].

NLC: What would a good wage be? What would you need to earn in order to live decently?

SUMON: Workers who get the basic salary (3,000) and, including overtime, it should be 5,000 taka. Everything including overtime and salary should be 5,000.

NLC Hidden Camera Footage: Unknown Harvest Rich workers, Sept. 2006.

Workers on a bus

NLC: What would be an acceptable number of hours to work each day? When should you leave the factory?

SUMON: It would be good for the workers if they could get out of the factory at 5 in the afternoon.

NLC: What would you say to the American people? The Hanes underwear that you make, that goes to the United States. Would you like to say something to the American people about how that garment is made and whether or not you are treated with respect?

SUMON: We would ask them not to take our time [as though it were] free time.  Like, we should be paid overtime correctly. Overtime should be paid correctly. We should be able to leave the factory at 5 in the afternoon. Overtime should not be until 10 at night. The company should pay us within the [inaudible] of the following month. These are the demands that we want to make.

NLC: Do you have a union at the factory?

SUMON: No, there is no union or association in the factory.

NLC: Do you know what a union is?

SUMON: A municipal corporation. A city corporation of a work commissioner.

NLC: Have you ever heard the expression 'the global economy'?

SUMON: I don't know.

NLC: Have you ever heard of the World Trade Organization?

SUMON: I cannot say.

NLC: Do the workers ever talk together about the work and how it should be improved, what would make it a better workplace.

SUMON: Workers never associate together. And we don't protest the violations. If we do, then the managers will call us names, beat us, shout at us and fire us.

NLC: When you were punished and they made you sit on the chair and hold your ears, can you talk a little about how you felt. You said you feel humiliated. How do you feel? Do you cry? What happens to you when you are doing this, when you are punished like this?

SUMON: Then I feel it is better to die than to live in this world.

NLC: Do you have hope for the future that you will have a good life and a good future because you work very hard?

SUMON: No.

NLC: You have no hope?

SUMON: No.

NLC: What's the most fun you've ever had? What was really a good time, a lot of fun?

SUMON: We have fun. We feel relaxed when we don't have work.

NLC: You mentioned Eid holidays. On Eid, do you have a big celebration?

SUMON: On Eid, we have fun and we go to neighbors' houses and relatives' houses.

NLC: Do you know what wages are in the United States? Could you make an estimate, like you make 2,000 taka a month, can you estimate what wages are in a country like the United States?

SUMON: Sometimes I have heard from people that they [inaudible], 20 times more than what we make.

NLC: Did you have a chance to go to school?

SUMON: Yes, I did.

NLC: Through what grade?

SUMON: I studied up until 5th grade.

NLC: Why did you have to leave?

SUMON: Because I could not continue my education.

NLC: What does it cost to go to school?

SUMON: It costs 1,000 to 1,500 a month.

NLC: For what? For books or fees, or what?

SUMON: Educational material.

NLC: Do you have to buy a uniform?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: What does that cost?

SUMON: 600 to 700 taka. We have 2 uniforms.

NLC: Did you like school? Did you like any particular subject the most?

SUMON: Yes. I liked Geography.

NLC: When you were in school, what did you dream of becoming? What would be your best job?

SUMON: I wanted to be a mechanic.

NLC: A car mechanic?

SUMON: An engine mechanic, a car mechanic.

NLC: You couldn't keep going to school because you couldn't afford it, that's true?

SUMON: Yes.

NLC: Do you know the labor laws of Bangladesh, like what the laws are governing the labor work?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Does anyone help you? Is anyone helping the workers in your factory?

SUMON: No.

NLC: Do you have any questions?

SUMON: What I want to say is, the company should give us overtime, pay salaries on time and pay legal wages. These are the words I would like to say.

...

NLC: In the whole Harvest Rich building, are there a lot of child workers, do you see other child workers?

SUMON: I cannot say exactly. But in the underwear product, there are 30 or 35.

NLC: Tomorrow, when you go to work, what time will you get out tomorrow night?

SUMON: I cannot say exactly.

NLC: Will you get Friday off?

SUMON: We have a shipment, so [the factory] should be open.

NLC: When you work on Friday, what time do you work to?

SUMON: 5 in the afternoon.


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