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March, 05 2010 |  Download PDF |  Share

Twenty-one Workers die and 31 are Injured Sewing Sweaters in Bangladesh For H&M, Mark's Work Wearhouse and Other Labels

(Families distraught - For more information, click the image)

Garib & Garib Company Ltd
Vogra, Gazipur Sadar
District:  Gazipur - 1707
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Owner:                      Mr. Bazlur Rahman Bhuiyan
Managing Director:     Nazmul Hasan Bhuiyan
Executive Director:     Andrew Karunaratne

Phone:             880-2-9252-745 and 9252-746
Fax:                 880-2-9257-049
Email:              nazgarib@bijoy.net

Production:     Sweaters / Pullovers for men, women and children

Major labels:    H&M, Mark's Work Wearhouse, Terenora and Zemman


H&M, a Swedish company, has been sourcing production for years at the factory.

Mark's is a Canadian company based in Toronto.  (In the first week of September, 2009, the Garib and Garib factory made four shipments of men's crew sweaters worth $290,711 to Mark's Wearhouse in Toronto.)  Mark's code of conduct is unique in that it includes specific guarantees that workers have the right to Freedom of Association, to organize a union and bargain collectively.  (Note:  the workers were never told they had these rights.)

According to H&M, the factory also produces for Terenora (Italy) and Zemman (Spain). 

Number of workers:  Approximately 3,500

* The Garib & Garib factory opened in February 1994.  It's sweaters are mainly exported to the U.S., Canada and Europe.  The Garib factory has seven floors, with the ground floor being the warehouse.  The first floor houses the Trimming and Repair section.  Offices and additional storage rooms are on the second floor.  The third, fourth and fifth floors house the knitting and linking sections.  And the sixth floor contains the winding section, canteen and prayer room.

 


Twenty-one Workers Die Sewing Sweaters for H&M, Mark's, Terenora and Zemman

Around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, February 25, a fire broke out on the first floor of the Garib & Garib factory, which burned out of control for more than two hours before fire fighters could contain it.  As it was believed that an electrical short circuit had caused the fire, a factory security guard shut off the main electrical switch, plunging the factory into darkness.  This left 25 to 30 workers trapped on the sixth floor.

Twenty-one garment workers on the sixth floor, including 16 women, died of smoke inhalation.  Thirty or more of the workers on the lower floors were also injured, some seriously.  The fire never spread above the first floor, but the burning bales of acrylic yarn caused a thick black toxic smoke to fill the factory.

(Broken factory wall - For more information, click on the image)

The main fire exit on the sixth floor was chained shut.  The remaining staircase was piled high with bales of yarn and other boxes.  The windows on the sixth floor had also been locked.  Engulfed in impenetrable darkness and smoke, and lacking fresh air, the workers were disoriented and helpless.  Some had tried to reach the blocked exits, while others died of smoke inhalation on the factory floor.  They had never been trained to deal with such a crisis.

The death toll could have been much higher, reaching into the hundreds.  But this is the slow season for sweater production (which runs January to April), and the vast majority of workers had been let out between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m.

It was only on the sixth floor that the winding section worked around the clock, using two shifts.   The night shift starts at 9:00 p.m. and runs for eleven hours to 8:00 a.m.  Every 15 days the workers shift from night to day or vice versa.

The sixth floor which was constructed of tin was also apparently built illegally, without permits or approval from the building codes office of the Municipality of Gazipur.  The original permit allowed the factory to build up to five stories.

There were also problems with the factory's fire extinguishers.  Mr. Abdur Rashid, deputy director of Fire Services and Civil Defense in Dhaka, told the Daily Star newspaper, February 26, 2010, that the number of fire extinguishers were not sufficient given the size of the factory.

(Factory room in ruins - For more information, click on the image)

On the night of the fire, hundreds of workers, their parents and relatives waited outside the factory, desperate for news of the workers still inside.

On March 2, an investigation committee led by Mr. Hassan Sarwar, a district magistrate, submitted their preliminary report to the government, judging that factory management was responsible for the tragic-and avoidable-deaths of the workers.

The state Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives has ordered the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to pay 200,000 taka ($2,890) to the families of the dead workers.

The workers think the death compensation must be much higher.

There was an earlier fire about six months ago at the Garib and Garib factory, which killed a fire fighter and injured four others.

 

List of the 21 Workers Killed in the February 25 Fire

Md Abul Kashem (40)
Shahera Begum (45)
Salma Begum (30)
Majeda Begum (30)
Marjeha alias Majida (35)
Rahima Begum (35)
Jarina Begum (45)
Santana Begum (28)
Shahinur  (35)
Mostafizur  (40)
Badal Mia (27)
Rawshan Ara Begum (35)
Jahanara Begum (40)
Alamgir Hossain (28)
Momotaj (40)
Sufia Begum (40)
Rasheda Begum  (35)
Rina Begum (26)
Afia (35)
Farida Beugm (40)
Pradip Kumar Da (30)

(Mother loses her daughter - For more information, click on the image)


A Hard Life:  Long hours, grueling work pace and low pay

The peak sweater season in Bangladesh lasts eight months, from May through December.  Thirteen and 14-hour shifts are the norm, seven days a week.  The workers are lucky to get one day off, or at most two days off, each month.  Shifts stretch from 8:00 a.m. to midnight or 1:00 a.m.  There are also all-night, 19-hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. before production deadlines must be met for shipping.

The knitting and linking workers are paid by a piece rate tied to production goals.  The work pace is so furious and exhausting that few workers make it past five or six years before they have to leave the factory. 

"Normal" shifts can stretch out 16 or 17 hours, from 8:00 a.m. to midnight or 1:00 a.m.

 

16 to 17-Hour Shifts Are the Norm

8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (Work, five hours)
1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Lunch, one hour)
2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Work, five hours)
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  (Supper, two hours)
9:00 p.m. to midnight or 1:00 a.m. (Work, three to four hours)

 

During all-night shifts before the sweaters must be shipped, the workers are kept from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. for an additional six hours, on top of the ten hours they already worked.

During the peak season and depending upon production speed and skill levels, knitting and linking workers can earn 8,000 to 15,000 taka a month ($115.61-$216.76).  The workers are earning between 29 and 55 cents an hour and $26.68 to $50.02 for the standard 91 hours of work.

Even during the slow season, from January to April, the workers will toil eight to ten hours a day, six days a week, for a workweek of 48 to 60 hours.

If there is very little production and the pace of work drastically slows down, the workers will earn just 10 to 15 cents an hour, or $5.00 to $7.34 a week.

Quality inspectors are paid a standard 4,000 to 5,000 taka a month, or $57.80 to $72.25, which comes to $13.34 to $16.67 a week.

The workers say the owner is a decent man.  He does not curse or beat the workers.  He treats them with respect.

- Women workers are provided four months maternity leave with pay.

- Workers are paid double time for working on their day off or on holidays.

- The workers can receive a 300-taka ($4.34) attendance bonus each month if they do not miss any days or arrive late more than three times.

- There is a daycare center at the factory, but workers rarely take their children there.

- Toilets are cleaned on a regular basis.

On the downside, though they are not threatened or beaten, supervisors do yell and curse at the workers in a very crude manner.  Also, the workers believe that the drinking water is not safe.

(Police on the scene - For more information, click on the image)

Workers have access to some rudimentary healthcare.  Once a week, a doctor visits the factory clinic, where bandages, cotton, antiseptic, ointments, painkillers and other items are available for free.  However, the workers have no health insurance and if they fall seriously ill, they are on their own.  Any medical treatment they require must be paid out of their own pockets, which the workers often cannot afford.

The workers do not receive a festival bonus before the two major Eid religious holidays-which is typically paid to government and other workers across Bangladesh.

(Families mourn dead workers - For more information, click on the image)


Workers' Demands

The Garib & Garib workers are accompanied in their demands, and struggle for justice, by the highly respected Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS).  The National Labor Committee supports the workers and the BCWS in their demands and asks that H&M, Mark's Work Wearhouse, Terenora and Zemman immediately begin good faith negotiations to protect the lives and rights of the workers.

  1. Twenty-one workers needlessly and tragically killed:
    H&M, Mark's, Terenora and Zemman must guarantee that the families of the workers killed receive a minimum of 500,000 taka ($7,225) as a death compensation.  The NLC would like the workers and their families to receive $15,000 each in death compensation.  Surely H&M, Mark's, Terenora and Zemman could easily afford this.
  2. Workers should be paid while the factory is closed:
    It is no fault of the workers that shoddy construction, locked emergency exits and insufficient fire-fighting equipment led to the deadly fire.  Every worker must be paid all lost work days-the factory has been shut since the night of February 25-according to their average salary as calculated over the last three months.
  3. All labor laws must be respected:
    H&M, Mark's, Terenora and Zemman must work with factory management to guarantee that the workers' legal rights to organize, form a union and to quickly achieve a collective bargaining agreement are respected.  Guaranteeing the workers right to organize will do more to improve factory conditions, wages and safety than any other step.
  4. Improving fire safety so that there are no more tragic deaths:
    - If the sixth floor was illegally constructed, it must be rebuilt to comply with safety standards.
    - Emergency fire exits must never again be locked.  Nor can stairways be blocked.
    - There must be sufficient, well-maintained fire extinguishers on each floor.  An emergency back-up lighting system and sprinkler system should be installed.  Workers should receive periodic trainings so they are prepared for any future emergency situation.
  5. Independent inspection by BCWS:
    Management must open the factory to independent inspection and must work together with the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity to guarantee the labor rights and safety of all employees.

(National Garments Workers Federation [N.G.W.F] procession in support of the Garib & Garib Sweater factory workers.)

(Police during the procession.)

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