Bangladesh – Danwatch undersøgende journalistik Tue, 19 Feb 2019 10:09:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bangladesh – Danwatch 32 32 Maersk and the Shadowy Deals Sun, 16 Oct 2016 07:27:19 +0000 Maersk and the Hazardous Waste in Bangladesh Sat, 15 Oct 2016 10:48:45 +0000 Maersk and the Hazardous Waste Sat, 08 Oct 2016 11:35:23 +0000 37 clothing factories closed after inspections in Bangladesh Fri, 20 Nov 2015 15:27:15 +0000 In collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Bangladeshi government has inspected 1.475 factories that produce clothing for export. The Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety and The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety have further inspected 2.185 factories for safety matters such as fire hazard, risk of collapse and electrical safety.

Out of a total of 3.660 factories, 37 have been closed while the rest will be assisted in developing and completing Correction Action Plans (CAP) which maps the conditions that need improvement.

“The Government of Bangladesh with the support of ILO has undertaken a number of steps to help factories develop CAPS. A ‘CAP Kit’ is provided to factories that provides templates and easy instructions”, Tuomo Poutiainen, manager of ILO’s Improving Working Conditions in the RMG Sector Programme, writes in an email to Danwatch.

Still uncertainty over funding

The initiative includes the harmonization of inspection standards, training of the inspectors and more transparency as 1.778 inspection report summaries are now online.

However, it is not free for factories to establish the safety improvements but the ILO and Tuomo Poutiainen cannot yet give an answer on how the improvements will be funded:

“Access to financing for remediating is another issue that is being looked at. A study is currently underway launched by ILO and IFC (International Finance Corporation, ed.) that looks at remediation financing challenges and options for RMG factories. This should be completed in early 2016”.

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New film: Dignified documentary on the battle of the textile workers Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:54:13 +0000 Angry men and women under red flags and powerful protests open the film ‘Udita’. A women says:“In one factory I succeeded with getting 530 workers organised in a union and we opened an office at the factory. There are four million workers in the textile factories in Bangladesh and we are not stopping until they are all organised in a union”.There are no passive victims. Only men and women who fight for their rights and unsentimental scenes from their everyday lives.

The directors Hannan Majid and Richard York from Rainbow Collective have filmed in Bangladesh for years and have earlier produced two documentaries: ‘The Machinist’ (2010) and ‘Tears in fabric’ (2013). Their newest documentary ‘Udita’ weaves together recordings from the past two films with new shootings and succeeds in drawing a neat portrait of how the battle for better conditions in the textile industry from 2010 to 2015 is slowly paying off.
Udita, which translates to ‘arise’, is also the story of dawning self-awareness and collective identity in an industry that only really caught the World’s attention after the disaster at Rana Plaza and the fatal fire at the factory Tazreen.

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More than just victims

We meet Razia Begum who lost her two daughters and a son-in-law when Rana Plaza collapsed and Shohibita Rani who tells us about being caught in the flames at Tazreen. These are stories that stick to your mind but ‘Udita’ does not decay to the victim clichés that unfortunately often shape the documentaries and the journalism on the textile industry in Bangladesh.

All too often female workers are portrayed only as helpless victims that the Western consumers should sympathize with and rescue.

‘Udita’ is not about the guilt of the Western consumer and the directors have left out the voice over, experts and observers who traditionally tell us what must be done. There are not just close ups of sad faces in dimmed lighting telling stories of abuse and broken dreams.

What is left is female workers as active players who tell their own stories. And we follow them in their everyday lives at home, in the streets and at the union office. They are not waiting for their rescuers.

At glance from within

The five-year-course of the documentary makes it possible to portray the increased professional organisation among the textile workers that peaked in 2013 when violent protests led to the first increase in the minimum wage.

The film is first of all an important counterweight to the conventional portrayals of the textile industry in Bangladesh where workers are often reduced to passive extras in a show where the leading roles belong to international fashion corporations, factory owners and Western consumers.

There is a chance this positive portrayal of the laborers’ organisation and the self-awareness of the seamstresses will leave you with an image that is a little too optimistic. ‘Udita’ is not the film that makes you wiser on how small a part of the workers that are actually organised, the problems with fake unions or the state’s missing protection of the unions. ‘Udita’ offers a good insight into the lives of the seamstresses and the construction of a collective identity as workers. However, it is of course also a limited insight that does not educate you on the systemic issues under which the industry suffers.

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Fashion clothes for deplorable wages Sun, 17 May 2015 07:40:44 +0000 Said Muhammed works at a textile factory in Dhaka. He is married and has one child. His basic salary is 4,200 taka per month (approx. 50 euro), but he can earn 3,000 taka (approx. 30 euro) extra in overtime, which can amount to upwards of 150 hours per month. Even after 150 overtime hours, he earns too little to take care of his family.

”With my income it is not possible to send money to my parents. My wife has to work, too. If we get sick, we have no extra money for doctor or medicine,” says the 25-year-old factory worker.

Minimum wage is not a living wage

In 2010 the legal minimum wage in Bangladesh was raised from 1,662 taka per month (approx. 17 euro) to 3,000 taka (approx. 30 euro). At that time the previous minimum wage was below the UN’s poverty line. Although the new minimum wage is higher than before, several local unions demand a minimum wage of 5,000 taka at the very least. Other organisations, such as Fair Wear Foundation, point out that a living wage in Bangladesh is three to four times higher than the existing minimum wage.

”The problem with the minimum wage is that food prices and living expenses have increased, but the wages have not,” says Pratima Paul-Majunder, researcher at The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.

She is backed up by Amirul Haque Amin, president of the union National Garments Workers Federation:

”The existing minimum wage of 3,000 taka is too low to ensure a decent living standard in Bangladesh. Living expenses and food prices have increased much more than the wages,” he says.

Changes take time

Although the wages are still too low, the employees work too long and the working environment is deplorable, Pratima Paul-Majunder, who has conducted research on the textile sector, says that the industry has changed a lot in the last ten years.

”Major improvements have taken place in the industry in the last ten years, but there is a long way to go. While many factories now pay their employees the minimum wage, a considerable number of them cheat their employees. International consumers and the local government both have a responsibility here,” she says.

Søren Jespersen, Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School and specialist in CSR in developing countries, agrees that companies and the government have a responsibility, but also believes that it is difficult for international buyers to directly influence the wage level in manufacturing countries.

”Changes like these do not take place from one day to the other. However, with a process and a long-time perspective, buyers and their suppliers can keep pushing the agenda forward so that the conditions can be improved,” he says.

While the slow winds of change are blowing over Bangladesh, Said Muhammed dreams that his children will have a different future than he:

”I would like to save money so that my children can get an education and not become textile workers like myself. Maybe one day I can afford to buy a small shop,” he says.

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Overview: Who Works for Better Conditions in the Textile Industry? Mon, 12 May 2014 14:00:04 +0000 Get an overview of the most important initiatives that followed in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which cost the lives of at least 1134 people.

Partnership for Responsible Textile Production

In May 2013, the Danish government, trade unions, civil society organizations and the majority of the Danish garment and textile industry entered into a partnership for responsible textile production in Bangladesh.
The partnership focuses on the rights of the textile workers, their security, greener production and increased supply chain transparency. The partners have begun a series of activities, including information meetings about the Accord on Fire and Building Security and dialogue meetings with trade unions from Bangladesh. The activities are coordinated under the auspices of The Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH).

The Danish Ethical Trading Initiative

DIEH was established to promote international trade that respects labour and human rights, and which contributes to a sustainable development in the developing countries and the emerging growth economies. In concrete terms, DIEH functions as a forum for exchange of knowledge and experience between the business sector, trade unions, NGOs and public institutions on collective solutions to problems related to ethical trade. Companies can use DIEH for guidance and concrete tools for ethical trade and responsible supply chain management.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: DKK 25 Million for Better Working Conditions

Denmark provides an additional DKK 25 million to improve the conditions for textile workers in Bangladesh and in other developing countries. 15 million are allocated to the program Better Work, which conducts ongoing audits and assesses whether the factories meet national legislation and international conventions on labour rights. The core funding of the UN labour organization, the ILO, is also increased by DKK 10 million this year, as stated in a press release by the Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mogens Jensen.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety

The accord is a legally binding agreement between trade unions and global textile brands and retailers, which will serve to prevent tragedies such as Rana Plaza. The accord entails independent audits of all the factories that are connected to the signatories. The factories that are included in the accord are committed to correct faults within specified time frames. The companies that sign the accord also commit themselves to remaining in Bangladesh and, if necessary, to help the factories economically with improvements. The accord comprises 1,545 factories and more than 2 million workers. Six Danish companies have signed the agreement: Bestseller, Coop Denmark, Dansk Supermarked, DK Company, IC Companys A/S, and Texman.

Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety

This initiative is another agreement that aims to improve the level of security in the textile sector in Bangladesh. Contrary to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, however, it is not a legally binding agreement, there is no trade union participation, and the companies do not commit themselves to retain their dedication to the factories involved. The agreement primarily covers American brands such as Walmart, Gap, and Fruit of the Loom.

3F: Upgrading Trade Unions

Danish 3F is present in Bangladesh, where they work to upgrade and support local trade unions, among other things. Read more about 3F’s work in Bangladesh.

Clean Clothes Campaign

Bangladesh is also an important focus country for the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), which is a network organization that aims to improve the conditions for workers in the textile industries in the developing countries. More than 300 organizations from all over the world participate in this network. One of the most central demands is that the textile workers attain the right to organize so that they can have influence on their own conditions and wages. Clean Clothes Campaign Denmark consists, among others, of LO-Greater Copenhagen, ActionAid Denmark, and Handelskartellet Danmark.

Action Aid

ActionAid is present in a great part of Bangladesh, where they work to end child labour, attract attention to labour rights, and generally improve the working conditions for workers in the industrial areas.

Save the Children

Save the Children has struggled to improve the conditions for the many children and child labourers of Bangladesh since the country gained independence in 1971; and there is plenty of work. More than a third of the population of Bangladesh is below 18 years of age, and almost 7 million children below 14 years of age work to support their family.

If you know of other initiatives, you are very welcome to contact us at

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Victims of Factory Collapse Have Waited a Year for Compensation Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:09:43 +0000 DKK 3,487. That is the first part of the compensation for losing an arm, a close family member, or the ability to work. On 23 April, the day before the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the Rana Plaza Fund paid 50,000 taka. to the victims.

This is the only compensation that unharmed survivors receive, while it is only the first portion for the invalidated workers and the close family members of deceased workers. According to plan, the total compensation should be paid out within six months. A lot of money is still needed, however, if this is to be the case.

Today, $15 million have been collected, but the UN-supported fund that administrates the compensation estimates that a total of $40 million is required. The money should primarily come from the companies that used the Rana Plaza complex for production.

Only Half of Them Have Paid

14 of the 30 brands that the campaign organization Clean Clothes Campaign links to Rana Plaza have donated to the fund. Apart from them, a number of companies with no connection to Rana Plaza have chosen to contribute.
Only one of the two Danish companies that have been involved in the Rana Plaza complex have donated to the fund. Mascot, a manufacturer of workwear, has donated a six-digit amount of crowns to the fund. The company had a series of test productions at one of the factories in the Rana Plaza complex in the years prior to the collapse.

Conversely, PWT Group has refused to contribute to the fund. PWT Group, which manages Texman, Tøjeksperten and Wagner, among others, used one of the factories for production when the building complex collapsed.

In Urgent Need of Compensation

That the victims are in urgent need of compensation from the fund is documented by an inquiry conducted by ActionAid Bangladesh among 2,222 victims. 74 percent of the survivors from the catastrophe have not yet returned to the labour market.
For the overwhelming majority, this is owed to physical injuries and disabilities, while almost 24 percent explain that the psychological damage caused by the catastrophe is preventing them from returning to the labour market. Two thirds of the respondent victims add that they have experienced economic difficulties since the catastrophe. Since the catastrophe, many families have had to manage for a smaller income, or no income at all. The salaries are already low in Bangladesh: the minimum wage for textile workers is around DKK 371, while an actual living wage is estimated to be around DKK 647.

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Forced into Death Trap Fri, 04 Apr 2014 09:11:17 +0000 Rozina was trapped inside the textile factory for three days. She is still waiting for compensation from the clothing companies.

“They forced me to go inside. I refused but I had no choice”. 24-year-old Rozina maintains eye contact as if to make sure that the words sink in.

“The managers were shouting that they would take away our salary if we didn’t enter the factory. Some people were shoved and beat”.

Her shoulders and arms are covered by a black scarf. It is not until the scarf slides up a few centimeters that you can see that the left arm has been amputated above the elbow.

Rozina Akthar worked at the factory Rana Plaza in the industrial city Gazipur in Bangladesh. She here sewed clothes for the fashion companies in Europe and the United States for less than DKK 2 per hour.

We were trapped

On 23 April, 2013, a large crack was seen in the factory’s concrete construction. Auditors warned against entering the eight-story building the next morning. But the owner – the businessman and politician, Sohel Rana – personally showed up to ensure the employees that everything had been checked down to the last detail.

“Once we had entered, they would not let us out again. We were trapped”. At eight o’clock, Rozina was sitting as usual by her machine. A few meters away was her 17-year-old sister, Marzina. At eight-thirty, the lights went out. Then came the crash. The generators that were supposed to provide the power supply instead sent a tremor through the entire building. As with an earthquake, the building sank under its own weight. Rozina was caught under a concrete element and a table. She was hit in the head by rubble from the ceiling and her left arm became stuck.

“I shouted my little sister’s name over and over. The only thing I could think of was to get free and to find her. I never doubted for an instant that I would survive. I don’t know why, but that’s how I felt”, Rozina explains.

Rozina had to saw off her own arm to escape the ruins.

15 Years Old and Working at the Textile Factory

Rozina was part of the boom that swept Bangladesh after the turn of the millennium. Both Danish and global clothing chains swarmed the country, which seemed appealing due to some of the lowest wages in the world. Rozina has been working in clothing factories from the age of 15. Now, she was trapped in the collapsed building, while the extent of the catastrophe gradually became apparent to the rest of the world.

After three days, an aid worker found a much-weakened Rozina. Nevertheless, she was not safe yet. The incredibly heavy pieces from the ceiling made it impossible to get close enough to get her out, and the situation became increasingly critical. Finally, Rozina accepted the hacksaw that was handed down to her and tried the unthinkable: to saw off her own arm.

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“I wasn’t afraid. I couldn’t speak anymore and I was barely able to think. I felt no pain either”, Rozina explains. Her voice is calm and unemotional.

The operation was not completely successful. Even though Rozina had the courage, she did not have the strength to saw through the bone. She got far enough, however, for the aid worker to be able to pull her out. The ensuing hours have been mercifully erased by the unconsciousness that accompanied Rozina to the nearest hospital. Her sister did not survive.

Searching for Sister Every Day

Rana Plaza became the worst catastrophe in the history of the textile industry. Today, the ruins appear as a monument to the clothing industry’s race to the bottom. Between rusty reinforcement bars and concrete blocks, the bereaved continue to search for the remains of those who did not make it out alive, a mother, a daughter or a brother.

“I visit the place almost every day to search for my sister’s body. Some people say that she has been moved and buried somewhere else, but I’m still hoping to find her”, Rozina says.

Companies Do Nothing

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Rozina suffers from daily headaches and pains in her arm after the catastrophe. She also mourns the fact that she is no longer able to earn a living for herself.

“I used to get up at five to go to work. I didn’t like it, but I would do it again if I had the chance. I’m no use to anybody today”.

And then again. Rozina’s 7-year-old daughter Rini comes running from the yard with a friend and jumps up to her mother on the hard bed that takes up most of the space in the family’s shanty. Rozina proudly explains that Rini is in the first grade and points to a stack of old school books that are waiting for her to become old enough.

In the yard, a couple of neighbouring women are frying a fish on the only gas burner in the building complex. Rozina can only afford rice and perhaps a few vegetables in the daily housekeeping.

“I’m not sure how we’re supposed to manage in the future. The companies that purchased clothes from our factory have a responsibility in connection to what happened, but they didn’t do anything about it. And they still don’t”, Rozina says. She receives DKK 690 from the state every month over the next four years.

A group of women stand among the rubble from Rana Plaza in the evening sun with little pictures of their deceased relatives. A boy suddenly waves, part triumphantly, part frightened. He has found something. When the adults approach, he holds it up with a serious expression on his face. It is a human skull.

Shapla Akhtar escaped from Rana Plaza alive but she is still searching for her brother’s body in the ruins. She brings her brother’s 10-year-old daughter, Fuara, and her own 7-year-old daughter, Ontore.

Survivors Are still Waiting for Compensation after the Catastrophe

The surviving workers and the bereaved from the collapse of Rana Plaza are still waiting for compensation from the clothing companies that were using the factory. So far, only seven clothing companies have accepted to pay money to a fund for victims of the catastrophe, among them the Danish company Mascot.

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In addition, Primark chose to pay nine months’ worth of salary to the surviving workers. Among the 24 companies that do not wish to pay to the fund is the Danish PWT Group that manages Tøjeksperten and Wagner as well as brands such as Bison, Shine and Lindbergh.
This has been a cause of criticism from the union 3F.

“PWT Group needs to dig deep into its pockets. It has a clear moral obligation to help the victims of the systematic greed and oppression that triggered the catastrophe”, Mads Andersen, Chairman of 3F’s industry group, says. PWT Group maintains that the company does not have any legal liability. Instead of contributing to the fund, the company has supported other projects, Head of Marketing, Brian Børsting, explains:
“We have donated a quite considerable amount to two well-renowned organisations in Bangladesh, where we are sure that our contribution helps and makes a difference”, Brian Børsting says.

Agreement on Safety

As a consequence of the catastrophe at Rana Plaza, more than 150 global companies entered into an agreement on safety in the clothing factories in Bangladesh. The agreement includes, among others, the government of Bangladesh and the factory owners, the FN body ILO and the global trade unions UNI and IndustryALL. The agreement covers 1,500 factories. The first independent audits began in February.

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