imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘labour’ Category

Aug 29,2008

Are you like me fed up of hearing about the “American Dream” and seeing Barack Obama’s face everywhere? Are you sick to the teeth of hearing american commentators squawking “BRRAAAAAACK” all over the show?  Sick isn’t it all this fanfare? Remember the turn out for him in Berlin earlier in the summer? I mean what the hell? He is simply a bloody opposition politician for god’s sake.

Anyway, the excessive media noise is useful when it comes to burying real news stories. And yesterday there was a real belter of a story which should remind everyone of the shape and colour of the so-called American Deam. A law suit has been filed in Los Angeles

One of America’s biggest military contractors (KBR- once a Halliburton subsidiary)  is being sued by a Nepali labourer and the families of a dozen other employees who say they were taken against their will to work in Iraq. All but one of the Nepalese workers were subsequently kidnapped and murdered….

The 12 Nepalis were seized by a group calling itself the Army of Ansar al-Sunna. The men were taken hostage on 20 August 2004 and shortly afterwards the kidnappers released a video of one being beheaded and the other 11 shot.

Many Bangladeshis were similarly tricked and made to work in Iraq. I posted a story earlier.

Aug 14,2008

Adviser M Anwarul Iqbal has announced that trade union activity ( which was banned after the Emergency promulgation of January 2007)  will be  permitted to a limited level.

“The workers’ organisations will be able to hold elections after obtaining permission from their local police stations, after official approval has been announced to the public,” said the adviser.

Talk about a police state….what is interesting is that the same minister will talk about good governance, transparency and accountability in the presence of donors without even batting an eyelid.

As for the trade unions themselves, well I sincerely hope the last 20 months or so have provided then with ample time to reflect on the consequences of being so intimately aligned to one political party or the other. That is no basis for organising workers who have their own interests. But I seriously doubt our trade union leaders have the capacity to understand that.

Aug 5,2008

The usual story is that foreign companies are exploitative and couldn’t give two hoots about working conditions and salaries etc. But in Malaysia, even foreign companies with very dodgy labour relations histories are appalled at the behaviour of their local partner and the state.  Read this story from the Herald Tribune about Bangladeshi workers (as well as workers from Vietnam and Myanmar) and their treatment at the hands of Hytex Group.

Tetulia tea Garden

Jul 2,2008

I will be blogging some stuff on labour issues re tea plantations in Bangladesh…at some point…but here is a promotional video (shot in HD). This is the Youtube version below. And folks please note - I am not promoting the vid. I have nothing to do with it. I am simply bringing it to your notice! And note the flowery words about humanity. lol.

Jun 24,2008

“We’ve already run out of food, water and money: if nobody comes for our rescue, we’ll not survive in the depot as we don’t have money to buy food”

Words of a Bangladeshi migrant worker stuck in a camp near KL International Airport in Malaysia, thanks to Shika Trade International, a bangladeshi labour recruiting company. And this:

How about this for a selective application of Zakat?

Odd-job worker Ishak Salleh and his family have been staying in a canvas tent since their rented houses were demolished by a relative last Wednesday. They have received assistance in the form of food supply and cash aid from the Seberang Prai Utara district office and the Penang zakat management centre. Ishak was “touched by the amount of aid he received. ” New Straits Times

Documentary Award

Jun 19,2008

The Bangladesh Federation of Film Societies has given the Best Documentary 2006 award to Bostrobalikara - Tanvir Mokammel’s film on the garment workers of Bangladesh.

Get the full list of awardees in Prothom Alo, 18 June, page 14, Column 7.

Thanks chaps!

More bad press for Telenor

May 30,2008

Notions that Scandos have progressive and enlightened labour policies are continuing to take a battering. Following on from my earlier post where I described Tom Heinemann’s documentary about working conditions for Bangladeshi workers doing contract work for Telenor and Grameen, there seems to be more bad news for the parent company:

Telenor’s Labour Scandal Deepens

Two more workers’ deaths linked to Telenor

May 15,2008

Yunus and Telenor

Jon Fredrik Baksaas of Telenor in a grinning competition with Mohammed Yunus.

A minority of regular readers of this blog will be fed up with my …er…concern about Professor Yunus in past posts. ( Just search Yunus in the search box..!!) If you are one such reader, then I request you to close your browser or surf to the Disney site because the story below is as nasty as it gets:

A Danish documentary will tonight reveal “miserable working conditions and environmental violations at companies in Bangladesh that act as suppliers to GrameenPhone ….co-owned by Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor and firms founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.”

Tom Heinemann

The documentary was made by made by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann and is to be aired on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) tonight.

The documentary shows:

* Employees working with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals virtually without protection.
* that workers were as young as 13 years, a clear violation of child labour laws. The firms were caught allowing polluted wastewater to spill into nearby rice fields.
* the death of a worker killed when he fell into an unsecured pool of acid.

The report in this Norwegian publication says :

Telenor officials claim they were shaken by the documentary’s findings, and admit they failed to adequately monitor the operations of GrameenPhone’s suppliers

See a trailer of the film here.

Tom Heinemann is an established journalist with a formidable track-record. In 2005/6 he made a documentary about the harsh working conditions of Indian workers producing for the Scandinavian market. The film is called “A Killer Bargain.” Heinemann’s primary concern is to reveal the stark realities of globalisation  in the developing world.

You will find more about Telenor in the comments section of this post of mine on Professor Yunus.

Apr 23,2008

Trafficked Workers

“My agent promised me a job in Dubai as a caterer,” said Mohammad Ashraful, 36. “But he seized my passport from a Dubai hotel and forced me to go to Iraq,” he told Reuters.

Sadly the story is not as rosy as the title suggests:

As Bangladesh closed its embassy in Iraq in 2003, the undocumented Bangladeshi workers could not collect duplicate passports to return home.

Apr 17,2008

Last week ( April 11th) was the 3rd anniversary of the terrible Spectrum Factory disaster in Savar. See an earlier post on this here

Lets recap on what has happened ( thanks to Clean Clothes Campaign).

  • Companies which have still not committed to the relief fund are: Carrefour (France), Cotton Group (Belgium), New Yorker, Steilmann, Kirsten Mode, and Bluhmod (Germany).
  • Last April 11 2007, progress on implementing the relief scheme had been delayed due to various reasons (including the political situation in Bangladesh)
  • Also last April, Inditex (Zara), initiator of the fund, distributed about US$ 3,000 total, divided over 22 of the victims, and pledged that the rest of an announced $60,000 advance would reach the remaining families shortly
  • Unfortunately during the last year there have been further delays regarding the advance payments. About 75 US$ was paid out to the victims since last year, but no advance payments were realized for the families of the dead.
  • On April 11, 2008, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) in Bangladesh organized a press conference demanding full implementation of the Spectrum Trust Fund for the welfare of the affected workers and the families of the dead.

Drishtipat and we the makers of a documentary on Bangladeshi garment workers created a one-off fund for some of the workers appearing in our film. We extended the financial help to include a little girl - Nadia - who lost her father in the Spectrum Disaster in terms of financing her schooling. I am happy to report that at least that small assistance is being given timeously. And the latest reports are that she is doing well in her schooling. Here is a picture of Nadia last year:

Nadia receiving from Sultana Kamal

Apr 14,2008

How has the suspension of trade union rights in January 2007 affected the garment industry? I have my own ideas but here is an anecdote to give you an indication:

Russell worked in the RM Sweater factory in Dhaka. Whilst working he developed a severe chest pain. He wanted to leave to get to a hospital. He was denied. Russell collapsed at the gate at 4.30pm. He died at the factory there and then. The factory usually stays open until 10pm everyday but closed that day at 5.30pm. The other workers soon worked out what had happened and took to the streets. This is a story from two weeks ago.

The difficulty of getting leave from a factory is a long standing complaint by garment workers. Pre-planned leave of absence is discouraged let alone an unexpected request. And we all know the tragic outcomes that the locked gate policy has had on workers in the past when fires have killed scores of women and children locked inside the factories.

So my take on it is simple. The caretaker government has effectively been denying the ability of garment manufacturers to reach a level of compliance with international labour standards. It’s a tripartite process and it requires the fullest participation of workers and their organisations. How can this happen if trade union activity is proscribed? If one of the players is not there, the garment owners are hardly likely to take up the cudgels themselves are they? And without compliance there will inevitably be a knock on effect on competitiveness.

Mar 9,2008

This is quite awesome news. It seems that this caretaker government has pulled off an interesting development.

Bangladesh has fixed a new minimum wage for unskilled workers in Saudi Arabia which will take effect from July 1.

Last week I was wondering what was going on when Mohammed Yunus, our roving diplomat, made some rather obsequious statements when he was in Saudi. He basically said that Bangladeshis are as law abiding as any other foreign worker. He went on to say, rather unnecessarily given his previous statement, that Bengali workers should abide by Saudi rules and regulations. That is easy for him to say so. He does not have to suffer the same atrocious wages and conditions. I was going to blog about it but I thought I had blogged enough about the grinning saviour of Bangladesh and the planet’s poor. He also had a chair named after him with some 15 scholarships attached to it. Here is a report about how well Yunus’ speeches went down during this critical time for Bangladeshis in Saudi. Then came a Daily Star report about the BD government exhorting Bangladeshi workers to behave in the Kingdom. This was followed by a further report about how the Bangladesh government is going to deal with Rohingyas who have been “abusing” Bangladeshi passports and creating trouble in Saudi. So it was interesting that all this was happening - as if it was a lead up to something. And it seems that matters have come to a head and there is some kind of deal.

What kind of deal has been hatched with Yunus’ help? No idea yet apart from the meagre details above. Which sectors are involved? What about other issues? Passport retention? Amnesty? If you are interested take a look at what the Indian government are facing in the UAE.

Bostrobalikara on Amazon

  • Filed under: labour
Mar 8,2008


Yes finally you can buy our DVD about the sweatshop workers of Bangladesh from Amazon. Produced in 2007, we take a balanced look at this phenomenal industry and the lives of its workers. I have no idea why the item is labelled as being out of stock. Amazon works in mysterious ways. So go on folks, here’s your chance to give me some money buy a landmark cultural statement on the matter . You know you want to. Other titles coming shortly.

Feb 14,2008

I wonder what kind of representation they got. I wonder what kind of defence they could afford. I wonder why, given the huge workforce Bangladesh has working abroad,  there is no agency/organisation which fights their corner. Did anyone contact “Fair Trials International” on their behalf? I wonder is it too late?