A new short film directed by David Munoz and co-produced by me has just been finished. The film tells of the forced repatriation of three Bangladeshi migrant workers after the financial crisis in Dubai, and the implications for their lives.
David’s last short film - Flowers of Rwanda - won the Spanish Film Academy’s Goya Award for Best Short Documentary as well as 42 film awards from various countries all over the world.
Go to the web site HERE.
Press package HERE.
Neil Kearney, tireless campaigner for labour rights in the textile industry, died in Dhaka of a massive heart attack on 19 November.
I first contacted him in 2006 to take part in our documentary “Bostrobalikara.” He flew out from Brussels to meet with us in London. He gave a superb interview. And in it he outlined why child labour is so pernicious - a fact some Bangladeshi progressives still cannot grasp to this day.
The textile industry remains a battleground but Neil’s tireless work has highlighted and established important principles for the defence and rights of workers in many countries.
Go well, comrade.
With this being the London Fashion Week, I thought I would bring myself up to date with developments in the sweatshop trade. Last week I spoke to Mr Ruhul Amin, General Secretary, Garment Sramik Trade
Union Kendro ( Garment Worker Trade Union Centre). Those of you who have seen Bostrobalikara might recall his name. He told me what appears below. Roughly verbatim:
The minimum wage thing is a little complex. There is supposed to be a
tripartite review of wages by the government, factory owners and trade
unions every two years. Just before the departure of the last BNP
government, this period was extended to three years. That expires this
That tripartite body set wages for helpers at 1600 -1700 taka per month. ( £1 is roughly 116 takas).
For helpers, depending on grade, it varies between 1800 to 2400 takas
per month. Most factories have dragged their heels even about this but
given the stridency of the worker’s movement most do provide this
level of salary. This is not however commensurate with current demands
by the trade unions who want a living wage. That would require a
helper to get 5000 takas per month. The Unions have arrived at that figure
through the ILO formula for deriving a living wage. No companies
provide that. Some companies which boast high rates of pay shroud the
actual activity - these payments are for piece rate activity and the
piece rate varies over time given market demand etc. The work is also
very arduous and the longevity of these machine operators is about 10
years ( they might start at 25 and they will finish by age 35).
So the agreement on wages - which is a pittance - is
generally being adhered to. The living wage is of course nowhere near it.
The other demands of workers are far from being addressed: medical
facilities, casual leave, service leave, restriction of overtime to
two hours is not adhered to, timely wages are not given, the full
numbers of hours worked are often not noted and therefore not paid for
etc. Only 1 percent of companies FULFILL ALL OF THE 2006 AGREEMENT. The agreement contained 10 points. ( weekly holidays, timely payments, 2 hour max overtime etc etc). Over 90
percent however fulfill the WAGES agreement which is a pittance and
not a living wage.
Stefania Ragusa, an Italian journalist, has reviewed Bostrobalikara for Il Manifesto.
by gutter newspaper News of the World. I am no supporter of gangmasters or labour exploitation but this action is disgusting. Read the story HERE.
What is not just irksome but downright unethical is to give an article a big headline like “The Modern Face of Slavery” and then follow it up with some initial text bristling with buzz words like bonded labour AND THEN fizzle out into nothing. No information. No references. Just a couple of interviews on this most incredible of issues.
So, with all that in mind, this is HOW NOT TO WRITE an article about modern slavery.
Professor Chowdhury reminds us of a key aspect of the garment industry: outside forces.
The garment industry is the only area where Bangladesh could claim considerable success. Today garment export is the main source of foreign exchange earnings for the country after remittances. Its success was not necessarily influenced by government policy but essentially by outside forces. This industry had its origin in the 1970s when the investors of other South East Asian nations ventured to set up garment factories in Bangladesh to work around the export quotas imposed on their native countries by the United States. Later, Bangladeshi entrepreneurs rushed to establish their own companies, some with little or no experience. After a period of adjustments, the industry began to stabilize and started to grow, and has eventually earned the world’s respect.
Thus, the stabilization and growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh was achieved largely with the help and intervention of foreign investors who supplied expert technical support for its quality control and had an effective marketing plan. Additionally, the country enjoyed a favorable quota system from the United States for quite a while. But this situation is now changing as other least developing countries gain trade advantage for their manufactured garments from the United States.
Migrant workers have countless tales to tell and no doubt there are a countless tales worthy of the big screen treatment. Bandhobi is a Korean Film and it deals with migrant worker issues . Don’t ask me what I think of it. I have not seen it. Here is the synopsis below. If anyone has a copy…
Summary below is from the film web site.
Min-suh, a 17-year old rebellious high school Korean girl, lives in a small apartment with her mother and her mother’s penniless lover. She hates mother’s lover and doesn’t understand both of them. Karim, a 29-year old Muslim migrant worker from Bangladesh has to leave Korea in a month. Before departing, he is desperately searching for his ex-boss to get his unpaid salary. One day, as Min-suh’s summer vacation begins, he encounters Min-suh in a bus, and together they set out on an emotional journey. Bandhobi is Bengali, meaning ‘Friend’ in English.
More from Rezwan HERE.
..Remittances to South and East Asia are still inching up. The pace of growth, however, has slowed down. World Bank cited Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Nepal as some of those that have recently been registering lower growth rates. The Philippines have been posting less than 5% monthly growth rates in the past months, a far cry from the double-digit increases in the previous years…
The working title of a new documentary I am working on.
More information here
A couple of days ago I blogged about the news of the Thai military maltreating Bangladeshi and Burmese migrants and effectively consigning them to their death on the seas. Now we hear that the labour recruiters are shamelessly exploiting all the uncertainty to extract even more money from the anxious relatives of these migrants.
Thai soldiers tied up our hands and then put us in boats without engines. These were towed into the high sea by motorised boats and left to drift.
“We were without food and water. The Thai soldiers clearly wanted us to die on the boats.
In the New Nation of 18th December 2008, Monsur Reza Chowdhury (Joint secretary, Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment) is reported to have said that Bangladeshi labour markets abroad are not likely to be adversely affected by world economic recession. Read here. Doesn’t that sound bizarre? I mean why would Bangladeshi migrant workers be unaffected?
So it wasn’t surprising to find in the Daily Star yesterday Abdul Matin Chowdhury, the minister for Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, saying that joblessness amongst Bangladeshi workers in Singapore is a direct consequence of global economic recession - contradicting the earlier statement by the official from his ministry.
Surely it is not rocket science to realise that there might be a knock-on effect of the global recession? Well apparently there is room for doubt. The Centre for Policy Development doesn’t seem to thinks so. They reckon that Arab countries are NOT likely to experience the crunch as badly. They are predicting a healthy and steady rise in remittances from Bangladeshi migrant workers. They point to these figures - $8.22billion last year; $6.55billion the year before and are predicitng $10billion by the end of the current financial year. The CPD are looking for
” greater dynamism and facilitation from the foreign ministry, expatriate welfare ministry and our overseas missions” so that “manpower export could be diversified, especially at a time when the traditional labour markets are likely to face a crunch if the global recession lingers.”
Ifty Islam of Asian Tiger Capital partners takes another view and writes :
“It is becoming increasingly evident that remittance inflow from Middle Eastern countries is likely to be adversely affected.” He goes on to describe Dubai’s property and financial woes.
And if this is indeed the case, then the situation of almost 3 million Bangladesh and Pakistanis in the UAE becomes very precarious. They make up the greatest proprotion of construciton companies’ costs ( even though they are paid about 3-5 dirhams or about one dollar an hour) and they lack employtment protection.
You would think that given the worsening situation, the government and the think-tanks would be a bit more circumspect about sending abroad as many workers as they can cram into planes. Remember that in the favoured destination areas - the middle east - migrant workers have no one to turn to and next to no rights.
The curious story of Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Maldives.
10,000 tourists go to the Maldives per week
330 tonnes of rubbish dumped on Tilafushi island every day
Rubbish now covers 50 hectares or 120 acres.
hand sorted by 150 Bangladeshi workers
Striking hotographs by Elin Hoyland. Guardian article here.