In Bangladesh, millions of people are working in thousands of garment factories, also known as “sweatshops”, to produce goods for export to the international markets, mainly North America and Europe. The garment industry in the country generates 80% of its total export revenue. However, the wealth generated by this sector has not really provided substantial improvements to the quality of life of workers, which are mostly composed of women. Here are the statistics and facts of the sweatshops in Bangladesh:
More than 3 million sweatshop workers in Bangladesh usually face appalling working conditions in around 4,825 factories, with many of them forced to work 14 to 16 hours per day and 7 days a week, finishing at 3 am in the morning only to start working again the same day at 7:30 am. They work with cramped, unsafe and hazardous conditions that often lead to work injuries and even fires. Since 1990, more than 400 workers have already died and several thousands more have suffered from injuries due to major factory fires.
Also, most of the garment workers in these facilities are earning only a little more than the minimum wage in the country that is set at 3,000 taka per month, which is far below what is considered as a living wage—5,000 taka per month. This would be the minimum amount required to provide a single family with food, shelter and education.
Aside from bad working conditions and very low wages, discrimination and sexual harassment are also widespread in these sweatshops, with a lot of women workers having reported issues, such as employers not giving them the right to serve maternity leave. Moreover, some factories are also taking steps to prevent the formation of trade unions, which is actually protected under the Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining ILO Conventions that the country ratified in 1972.
Considering that sweatshops are a major issue not only in Bangladesh, but also in other developing countries, it is important to know the facts behind them.
1. Sweatshops are generally defined as factories violating two or more labor laws.
2. These facilities often have unfair wages, poor working conditions, unreasonable hours, a lack of worker benefits and child labor.
3. According to research, doubling the salary of workers at sweatshops would only increase the costs of the items they produce, while consumers would be willing to pay more to know that a product does not come from one of these shops.
4. Sweatshops do not help resolve poverty, while people who are forced to work in them spend most of their paycheck on food for their families to be able to survive.
5. Child labor is especially common in these shops.
6. Many sweatshop workers experience at least one violation related to pay. Assuming that they work full-time, they would lose a substantial amount from their salary in a year.
7. As women make up most of the sweatshop workers, some employers try to force them to take routine pregnancy tests and birth control to avoid allowing maternity leaves and the supporting health benefits.
To address issues that come with these sweatshops, the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF) is working hard to challenge abuses within these factories by promoting workers’ rights and lobbying the government to create and enforce stronger legislations.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.