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May, 03 2012 |  Download PDF |  Share

Bangladeshi Workers Fight Back


High End European and Australian Retailers
Clean up Chinese-owned Sweatshop

 

 
 
 
The Chinese-owned Rosita and Megatex factories in Northern Bangladesh produce sweaters for high-end European and Australian retailers including British Home Stores and Arcadia Group (UK), Dressmann (Norway), de Bijenkorf (The Netherlands), Peek&Cloppenburg (Germany), Fynch-Hatton (Germany), Celio (France) and Coles (Australia).  The Institute's first report on Rosita and Megatex, Chinese Sweatshop in Bangladesh, was published on March 8, 2012.

UPDATE: Rosita and Megatex, Bangladesh
Breaking down Sweatshop Doors
   Leaked Audit Reports
An Appeal for Help: High End European Labels  Descend into Sweatshop Scandal
Institute Report and Alerts

Addenda    
   A. Workers' Press Conference Statement
   B. Workers' Petition to Reinstate Union Leaders
   C. List of over 100 Workers Falsely Charged by the Police
   D. Megatex and Rosita Internal Memos: Payment of Earned Leave and 10% Yearly Increment    
   E. Rosita Knitwear Internal Memo Ordering Incorrect Payment of Maternity Benefit
 
 

 

On March 25, 2012, Bangladeshi police attacked and brutally beat the workers. The workers at the Rosita and Megatex plants were protesting Chinese management's unilateral decision to slash the workers' piece rates (wages) by 20 to 47 percent.

 

"BEPZA [Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority] and the factory management ordered the police to attack us," said an injured worker at Rosita factory, "They started charging the innocent workers at Megatex with their batons. Then the workers also became involved in fighting with the police,"

 

 


UPDATE
Rosita and Megatex
Bangladesh

  • More than 300 Rosita and Megatex workers were arbitrarily terminated beginning in late January through early February 2012.  To date, none of the fired workers have been reinstated.

  • In February 2012, six workers were imprisoned, including elected leaders of the Rosita and Megatex Worker Welfare Associations.  It is our understanding that the six workers are now out on bail.

  • Rosita and Megatex management filed criminal charges against 169 workers, but with the help of local government officials, those charges have been dropped.

  • Over 100 workers are facing extremely serious charges including "attempt to murder police officers."  The charges were brought by police sub-inspector Md. Abdur Razzak Miah.  There appears to be no merit to these charges.  For example, Mr. Helaluddin, President of the Rosita Workers Welfare Association, was not at the factory on March 25.  He had been fired earlier and was in hiding, for fear of threats against his life.  This did not stop local officers from claiming they had seen Mr. Helaluddin at the factory, with a rifle, which is a total lie.

    Bangladesh's police put very little effort into actually gathering evidence.  Mr. Aminul Islam, a labor activist with the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, was recently brutally tortured and murdered.  The police still have no leads on Mr. Islam's assassination.
     
  • To date, more than 100 Rosita and Megatex workers-including leaders of the Workers Welfare Associations-are in hiding for fear of being unjustly imprisoned and tortured under false charges.  Many workers have been unable to return to their homes to see their wives and children. (See p. 15 for a list of workers being charged by the police)

  • Over a period of just a few days, over 4,000 Rosita and Megatex workers ─ 4,044 to be exact ─ representing 90 percent of the workforce, signed a petition in support of their elected Worker Welfare Association leaders.  The petition reads:

"We the workers of Rosita and Megatex, are making an appeal to our Managing Director to reinstate Mr. Helal and Mr. Belal in their respective factories.  We hope that the Managing Director would be kind enough to consider our request.

The workers have done this at great risk to themselves, with government officials threatening to terminate any worker who dares sign the petition.  We urge the labels to strongly encourage both Rosita and Megatex management and local government officials-including the police-to respect the fundamental labor and human rights of workers and their elected representatives. (See the petition and all 4,004 signatures)

 

  • Flawed audits designed to fail: We are referring to the April 2009 audits of Rosita and Megatex by Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI)-conducted by SGS. Whether the BSCI/SGS auditors were simply incompetent or intentionally ignorant, the end result was the same, providing corrupt South Ocean management with a green light to continue the violations.

    BSCI and SGS should either undergo serious remedial training regarding independent, honest and thorough audits, or their services should be terminated.

    For example, the BSCI/SGS audit relied upon Mr. Md. Nahid Akter Nirob, the assistant general manager, to be "responsible for updating and implementing legal regulations" in the Rosita factory.  The only problem is that Mr. Nirob was a crook.  Mr. Nirob was recently terminated, arrested and imprisoned for corruption and graft.  Mr. Nirob posted bail-likely with money he stole from Rosita and the workers-and is awaiting trial.

    Moreover, Mr. Hunter Lu, Rosita's administrative manager, was named by BSCI/SGS as the person "responsible that BSCI social requirements are met."  But it appears that Mr. Lu himself is also being questioned for his part in the graft and corruption at Rosita and may also be on his way out-to prison.  (This is according to a knowledgeable high level source in the Bangladeshi Government.

    The BSCI/SGS audit of Rosita in April 2009 failed to find any violations.  According to BSCI/SGS:
  • All overtime was voluntary, paid at the proper overtime premium and, even during the peak season, the workers never worked more than the legal 10.75 hours of overtime a week.
  • All employees "receive their paid leave according to statutory regulations."
  • "It is forbidden for security guards (armed or unarmed) to keep the workforce under pressure."
  • "Employees have the right to establish,  join and take action in free and independent workers' organizations including free and independent unions without prior authorization of the employer."

The BSCI/SGS audit goes on and on-all of it lies.  The Rosita workers have never been afforded any of the above legal rights.

  • A Rush to Judgment by South Ocean's director, Mr. George Leung

    On March 12, 2012, Mr. Leung, who is in charge of South Ocean's factories worldwide, was referring to the Institute's report on the Rosita factory when he stated, "...preliminary enquiries we have made support that that [the Institute's] allegations are without basis."  Moreover, "In this connection, please note that the latest BSCI social audit with regard to our factory was conducted in April 2011 and reported good results overall.

    The South Ocean-sponsored audits are simply not credible.  The European and Australian labels at Rosita and Megatex must take a more proactive role in overseeing, monitoring and enforcing respect for the legal rights of the workers who sew their garments.
  • Verité's audit was surprisingly thorough, professional and accurate, especially given the short audit period and chaotic conditions at Rosita and Megatex in March 2012.

    However, it is important to note that during the peak season all overtime is mandatory at Rosita, and the workers are routinely cheated of their legal overtime premium.

    This is the scam South Ocean management was running at Rosita and Megatex:  The first two hours of daily mandatory overtime, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., were properly recorded and paid at the legal overtime premium.  The workers were then required to continue toiling an additional two hours of overtime, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. unpaid and off the books.  Management confiscated the workers' timecards and punched them out at 7:00 p.m.  In lieu of being paid overtime, the workers were paid a tiny cash bonus of 150 to 300 taka ($1.83 to $3.66) at the end of the month.  To complete the charade, the workers had to sign false time sheets.

    Also, under a similar arrangement, the workers were forced to toil six hours overtime from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Friday, their legal holiday.  This was also off the books.  Management recorded the illegal overtime hours on a separate sheet of paper.

    Many workers can testify that management burned a large number of "informal company documents" prior to Verité's audit.

    It is also common for the workers to be required to sign a wage sheet stating that they have been paid 6,000 taka ($73.17) for the month, while in reality they were given just 5,500 taka ($67.07) in cash.  South Ocean should pay the workers all the back wages due them.
  • Sexual Harassment: Mr. Kamal, a supervisor at Rosita, acted as a go-between-at least three times-asking young women to sleep with Chinese and Bangladeshi factory managers. Ms. Bina, Mr. Morium and another woman also named Ms. Bina faced such pressure to have sex with their bosses.

    This is another serious accusation which needs to be thoroughly and independently investigated.
  • As of May 20, 2012, all workers will finally be paid their legal earned leave and also their annual 10 percent increase! After years of cheating the workers, this is very good news.

  • The labels should also look into management's underpayment of maternity leave. We have evidence that women workers have often been paid just half of their legal maternity benefit, and it appears that this has been going on for years. Back benefit payments due these women should also be paid immediately.
  • Rosita, which is owned by South Ocean through a tax haven shell company called Evermark Limited, incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, also subcontracts work to:

United Impact Ltd.
Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Forehand Enterprise Co. Ltd
Chittagong, Bangladesh

Feung Ning Industries Ltd.
Hong Kong, China

Novetex Textiles Limited
Hong Kong, China

Zhuhai Cheumay Chemicals Co. Ltd.
Nanshui Town, China

  • Other than the labels mentioned in connection with the Rosita and Megatex sweatshops, other South Ocean factories produce for:

    Europe: Marks and Spencer
    Diesel
    Next
             U.S.: GAP
    Donna Karan
    Calvin Klein
    Polo
    Tommy Hilfiger
    Federated
    Eddie Bauer
    Kmart
             Japan: Uniqlo
    Jusco
    Ito-Yokado

 

 

 

 

It would be wise for these European, U.S. and Japanese labels to immediately launch serious, independent audits of working conditions, wages and respect for worker rights at other South Ocean supplier factories.

 

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Breaking down Sweatshop Doors

 

An unprecedented inside glimpse into how high-end European and Australian retailers descended into what can only be described as a criminal conspiracy in collaboration with the secretive Chinese-owned South Ocean Group, which is one of the world's largest knitwear manufacturers.

The over 4,500 Bangladeshi men and women at the Rosita and Megatex factories in the North Bengal region of Bangladesh fought back, demanding their basic legal rights.  Hundreds of workers were beaten with clubs, constantly threatened, fired, sexually harassed, imprisoned under false charges, cheated of their legal wages and benefits and stripped of their rights.  In the midst of their struggle, the workers asked the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights to provide international solidarity, which we have gladly done.

One company leak has followed another, often from workers, sometimes also from management staff.  Phony, corrupt corporate auditors have showered praise on the Rosita and Megatex sweatshops.  But other documents found their way to the Institute describing in detail how workers were routinely cheated of their wages, benefits and maternity leave.  Rosita and Megatex management kept two sets of books-the real ones and the phony ones for the gullible corporate auditors.  The exception was Verité, which recently produced a more or less accurate audit.

The Rosita and Megatex workers have literally given their blood to win their rights.  The hope now is that we may have entered a "Race to the Top," in which Bangladeshi labor laws will be respected, along with the core International Labour Organization's internationally recognized worker rights standards.

The workers have taught us a great deal.  If we do not fight back, we will get nothing.

In this global economy, we are all tied together, and we will either rise or sink together.

Please stay involved.  Our wages, benefits and jobs are always under attack, whether it is Europe, Australia, Bangladesh in the United States.

Leaked Audit Reports

Business Social Compliance Initiative. Social Audit Report. April 2011

Business Social Compliance Initiative. Audit Questionnaire. April 2011

SGS. Factory Photos. April 21, 2011

Verité. Comprehensive Factory Evaluation Report of Rosita Knitwears.

Verité. Corrective Action Report-Rosita Knitwears. April 2012


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An Appeal for Help:
High End European Labels
Descend into Sweatshop Scandal

 

 

How many consumers in Europe, the United States or Australia have ever heard of "South Ocean"?  Probably no one.  Yet the South Ocean Group of Companies in China, established in 1974, is one of the largest knitwear manufacturers in the world.  In their plants across China, Bangladesh and Vietnam, they turn out 45 million pieces of knitted garments each year.

Consumers may not have heard of South Ocean, as it is a secretive, privately held company with no website or information about the size of their operations or annual revenues.

Some of Europe's most storied labels have been handed over lock, stock and barrel, to the little known South Ocean in China.  The European labels have been on auto-pilot for the last two decades or more.  Whatever South Ocean wanted, it was fine with the labels.  The labels did not even have a say regarding which production sites were used by South Ocean.  One European apparel company told us that, "there is no reason why we should interfere with South Ocean's management decision where they produce our garments."

This is an astonishing abdication of responsibility.  Make no mistake about it:  The Rosita and Megatex factories producing for Europe have functioned as illegal, violent and corrupt sweatshops.

This should be a wakeup call to the European labels.  Remember what President Reagan said during the Cold War:  "Trust but verify."  The European labels must get off auto-pilot and begin to seriously monitor the offshore factories they use to make their expensive sweaters.

As we have said to companies all along, cutting and running-pulling your production from the Rosita and Megatex factories-is the worst thing you could do.  That would only further punish the workers, who have already suffered enough.  Rather, you must keep your current levels of production in these factories as you work together with management and the workers to bring the Rosita and Megatex factories into full compliance with Bangladesh's labor laws as well as the ILO's core, internationally recognized worker rights standards.

I hope I am not shocking anyone when I say that Bangladesh is not immune to corruption and graft, which will also have to be confronted.

This is what we ask of Arcadia Group, British Home Stores, Celio, Dressmann/Varner Group, Peek&Cloppenburg, de Bijenkorf, Fynch-Hatton and Coles/Wesfarmers:   That the workers of Rosita and Megatex be accorded their legal right to form and join a Worker Welfare Associations (WWA), which by law permits the workers to democratically elect their union leaders, to bargain collectively, negotiate a contract and work to assure respect for worker rights. This may not sit well with South Ocean's secretive management, but they will have to get used to it.

Right now, hundreds of workers have been fired and over 100 more are facing trumped up charges.

Eight leaders of the workers' welfare association at the Rosita Sweatshop have been terminated, including its president, Mr. Helaluddin.  I have been a human rights advocate for over 25 years and Mr. Helaluddin is one of the most honest, competent, courageous and effective union leaders I have met.  I am asking the European labels to meet face to face with Mr. Helaluddin.  You can judge for yourself whether or not he is a uniquely truthful leader, who has dedicated his life to his members.

Yes, Rosita and Megatex management hate him, as do some of the Bangladeshi officials in charge of the export processing zone.  The local police have charged Mr. Helaluddin with "attempt to murder police officers."  These charges are completely false, but they are also extremely serious.

We need your help to bring some sanity back to the Rosita and Megatex factories.

It speaks volumes about courage, that despite the ongoing threats of termination directed against the workers by management, over 4,000 Rosita and Megatex workers-90 percent-dared to sign a petition in support of their union leaders, Mr. Helaluddin and Mr. Belal.  The union belongs to the workers and not management, and is meant to serve as an independent and equal partner in negotiations.

Can we work together to guarantee basic labor rights protections for Bangladesh's garment workers, who are among the hardest workers in the world, but also among the poorest?

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Institute Report and Alerts

Supplemental Documents

Chinese Sweatshop in Bangladesh. March 8, 2012
Death Threats against Labor Leaders-Rosita and Megatex Sweatshops Bangladesh. March 9, 2012
Rosita/Megatex Management Threatens Workers. March 14, 2012
European Retailers respond to prison-like conditions at Bangladeshi Supplier. March 14, 2012
The Truth about Megatex: management unilaterally slashed the workers' wages. March 22, 2012

Video Footage

March 25 work stoppage and police violence

Press

Sweatshop horror exposed.” The Sun. May 14, 2012.
BHS knitwear is made by 'beaten and humiliated Bangladeshi sweatshop workers who are paid 10p an hour.'” Daily Mail. March 14, 2012
Employees at Coles fashion factory work 'like slaves'.” Sydney Morning Herald. April 7, 2012


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Addenda

A. Workers’ Press Conference Statement

 

Press Conference Paper

Rosita-Megatex Workers Press Conference
Venue: Dhaka Reporters Unity
8/4-ATopkhana Road, Sagunbagicha
Dhaka-1000
Date: April 3, 2012 at 2.30pm 


This paper would be presented to the audience by either a Rosita or Megatex man/women worker

 

Dear Journalist Friends,

First of all on behalf of thousands of workers of Rosita and Megatex knitwear factories located at Ishwardi Export Processing Zone we would like to express our thankful gratitude for your active participation in the press conference.

Both the factories are owned by Hong-Kong Chinese investors. Rosita has been operating for the last four years and the Megatex for two years. At least 5, 500 workers are toiling at the plants. From the very beginning both the factories routinely and systematically violate the every single law of the country and its own manual. Since Ishwardi EPZ is located in a remote village area isolated from the main cities, all the abuses and rights violations are remain unnoticed and unexposed. While being recruited at the two factories, workers had to pay Tk. 2, 000-Tk. 5, 000 as bribe to the management to get a work contract. You would not find a single worker who has been exempted from the unofficial norm.

The management beat, threatened workers for making any legal demands. During the pick season from February to September we have to work 13 hours shift daily staring from 8.00am to 9.00pm. On Fridays we have to work 6 hours from 7.00am-1.00pm without any break. All the overtime is compulsory and we did 128 hours overtime per month in the peak season that we mentioned. After having 10-15 years of work experience in garment sector all the workers belong to either Trainee or Trainee Operator. In 2010 the BEPZA and company set $55 (TK. 3, 855) as wage for the trainee operators. The BEPZA and the company booklet pledged to pay equivalent money of current dollar conversion rate. Currently the dollar exchange rate is Tk. 82 or more for the last six months but wage is not adjusted according to the current dollar exchange rate. During 2011-2012 the $ 55 is equivalent to TK 4, 510. That means the company has shortchanged (TK 4, 510-Tk. 3, 855) TK. 655 each month from each workers.

The company booklet (page 06) confirms that workers will get 10% annual increment on basic salary but unfortunately in reality not a single worker got the annual increment. They cheated our overtime and production piece rate. They never told us beforehand the piece rate. They unilaterally have fixed the piece rate. In addition, the management took away Tk. 1, 000-Tk, 1500 per month from each worker's piece rate money. Over the last four years they have shortchanged million of dollars from the workers. During the lean season during October-November, 2011, we had been asking for the earned leave money as we have less income. For the last four years the company did not pay our legal earned leave money (17days a year).

After our repeated requests to the BEPZA and the company for making our representative in resolving our problems, in November, 2011, the BEPZA and the company wanted us to run for an election to form a Workers Welfare Association (WWA) at Rosita. The 15-member WWA body won a landslide victory with president Mr. Helaluddin. Since then we have been begging the management and BEPZA to pay our long-cherished earned leave money. But unfortunately they did not pay heed to our requests, instead delaying a concrete decision.

The WWA has urged the management and BEPZA repeatedly but failed to draw their attention. Finally on January 29, 2012 they gave a lump sum of leave money without clarifying to us how they calculated the payments. After working two to four years a worker got in the range of Tk. 700-Tk. 2, 000 earned leave money which is much less than the legal calculation. We challenged the unilateral decision of the company and wanted an official clarification about the method of calculation of the earned leave money. They immediately called the police on January 30, 2012 to go for violent action on us, to force us to accept management's unilateral decision. Several workers got injured and about 300 workers were terminated. Six workers were imprisoned, including the WWA president Mr. Helaluddin for bringing the issue of the earned leave money to the attention of the company and BEPZA. They shut down the factory and reopened it in mid-February.

The management also sexually abuses the beautiful women workers. They openly offer sex proposal to some women workers. A victim came to WWA for justice and we had her make a complaint to the management and BEPZA on January 25, 2012. They responded they would look into it after two to three months. Attached is a complaint of the woman worker, Ms. Bina.

 

On March 21, 2012 the management hung a notice to let workers know of a lowered production piece rate. We found out the new production piece rate would be Tk. 16 instead of Tk. 26. We said, "No, No, we would not accept it." The management staff assured that they would reconsider the rate the following day.

The management closed the factory during March 22-24, 2012 following a clash between the management and the workers over the issue of cutting production piece rate. They still wanted to give us the lower piece rate.

On March 25, 2012 we went to the factories at 8.00 a.m. to work but company continued to say that they would cut the production piece rate. In the past we used to get Tk. 16- Tk. 30 but now they wanted to offer Tk. 16 maximum for the piece rate. By no means, we were not in a position to accept the unscrupulous decision of the management. We decided to refrain from doing work in the factory peacefully. We saw then the management staff leaving the factory and the Chinese went to the BEPZA office. The General Manager of both the factories, Mr. Amir Hossain, called the police. The police entered the factory and then started charging with batons on Ms. Bina Begum. She got severely injured on her arms, backside and on head. At some point Bina lost consciousness and lay down on the floor. The men workers challenged the police attack. Then the police became more violent and militant and tortured us.  Then workers were also involved in fighting with police. A fierce clash took place between us and the police at around at 10:30 a.m. The violence first started at Megatex and then spread to Rosita. In the morning, the Rosita workers the WWA gave a written charter of demands, asking the management and BEPZA: a) to reinstate the terminated workers, including Mr. Helal; b) to withdraw the false charges against workers, and c) to increase the production piece rate.

In the initial stage the number of police officers was limited. Both workers and a few police were injured in a series of clashes. There was a chase and a counter chase between us and the police. Then the police locked the main entrance of the EPZ so that workers could not get out of the zone. In a couple of hours, a huge number of police (about two thousand) entered the factory.

 

They indiscriminately began charging on us with batons.  The police lobbed tear gas, fired openly to create a panic situation. We are screaming inside the factory because of the police attack. The police tore women worker's dresses, touched their bodies and sexually abused them. As the news of the police attack spread around, the workers from neighboring factories joined the violence and attacked the policemen at around 1:00 p.m. The EPZ turned into a battlefield. At midnight of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani occupation forces attacked the innocent Bangladeshi people while they were sleeping. After 41 year of our independence on, March 25, 2012, the police of this country attacked us who make our economy alive and vibrant and bring the major foreign currencies for the country. This is a national tragedy and crisis. The police should not be used as tools to repress the workers and to save the owner. Surprisingly not a single management staff got hurt as it was a conspiracy and pre-planned attack on us. To our knowledge two thousand workers including women were beaten by police. Some workers' conditions are still critical and they have been referred to Rajshahi medical college and Pabna medical college. Some of our colleagues are still missing. BEPZA shut down all five factories in the Ishwardi EPZ and police to patrol the nearby areas. There was an unofficial semi-curfew imposed on that day so people could not get out of home for fear of being arrested. The police have filed a lawsuit against hundreds of workers. Workers went into hiding to escape arrest. Still there is a tense situation prevailing in the areas adjacent to the EPZ.

 

Our demands include:

  1. To withdraw immediately the false charges against hundreds of the workers who went into hiding to avoid arrest;
  2. To reinstate hundreds of fired workers with their legal back wages;
  3. To strictly enforce the BEPZA rules and regulations to ensure workers' legal rights are protected;
  4. To implement the corporate code of conduct of European buyers to respect the rights of the workers;
  5. To pay back all the money that the company has cheated us over the years, including wages, overtime and earned leave money;
  6. To stop sexual harassment, beatings, threats, and psychological torture on the innocent workers;
  7. To empower and make function the elected body of Worker Welfare Associations (WWA) with their office inside the factories so that workers have legal representation in collective bargaining or negotiations; and,
  8. To re-open the factories immediately and establish rule of law in the Ishwardi EPZ areas.

 

The Institute's Director, Charles Kernaghan, spoke at the press conference.


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B. Workers’ Petition to Reinstate Union Leaders

 

"We, the workers of Rosita and Megatex, are making an appeal to our Managing Director to reinstate Mr. Helal and Mr. Belal in the respective factories.  We hope that the MD would be kind enough to consider our request." (See the petition with all 4,004 signatures)

 

 

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C. List of over 100 Workers Falsely Charged by the Police


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D. Megatex and Rosita Internal Memos:
     Payment of Earned Leave and 10% Yearly Increment


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E. Rosita Knitwear Internal Memo
        Ordering Incorrect Payment of Maternity Benefit

 


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