imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘labour’ Category

Feb 5,2008

Mention Uzbekistan to me and I conjure up romantic visions of a fabled city called Samarkand, and of the great and vibrant trade route or Silk Road and all the great intrigues and powerplays down the centuries from Alexander the Great to Tamurlane to the Great Game to….er Islom Karimov. Who he you ask? Well firstly he is a mate of George Bush. So if you are thinking that Karimov must then be a tinpot dictator who boils people to death and presides over a country which uses child labour for cotton production, you would be right.

So what has all this to do with Bangladesh? Well from July, several European and U.S. firms will not buy Bangladeshi garments if they are made with cotton from Uzbekistan. This Uzbek cotton is bad news for an industry already under a variety of pressures - a lot of it self-inflicted of course. President Karimov recently wrote a book with a very catchy title - “Uzbek people will never depend on anyone.” This is a somewhat surprising title as Uzbekistan is very much dependent on trade. Therefore they are sparing no effort and have sent out their deputy minister for foreign economic relations and trade and investment Nasriddin Najimov to reassure cotton importing nations that all this child labour stuff is a load of old codswallop and that the country can’t be held responsible  if Uzbek children love to play in cotton fields picking cotton. Its a traditional child’s pastime apparently.

And talking of children, Karimov’s daughter - Gulnara Karimova - has just been appointed a minister! Now which country does that remind you of?? She is a real go-getter it seems having accumulated vast amounts of wealth in the country’s energy industry. Not only that she is also multi-talented. She appears on state tv in her music videos. Going by the name Googoosha, you can see her perform a delightful ditty here on Youtube.

Feb 3,2008

About two weeks ago, a delegation of garment factory owners went to petition the government to seek help in a variety of financial matters. One of their demands was ration vouchers for the workers. This was not an act of charity or concern for the workers. This was an act of an industry acting out of greed and avarice. It does not want to pay its workers a living wage despite tripartite agreements, publicly announced undertakings, memoranda of understandings and what have you. Instead the owners of the garment industry in Bangladesh constantly dangle the threat of going bust to seek financial subsidies. Rather than addressing the critical needs of the industry, they have their vision firmly fixed on their own short term concerns.

Take for example the murder of a worker earlier this week and the injuring of another allegedly for theft at Vertex Fashion Ltd. What kind of modern industry resorts to savage beatings and in this instance murder to deal with such allegations? Yes it is the Bangladesh garments industry. And the Daily Star editorial pulls its punches when it limply says “One has to see whether their action reflected any attitude on the part of their owners or higher officials.” Beatings and much worse offences are common place in this industry. There is a culture of intimidation and violence, including sexual violence, in bangladesh’s flagship manufacturing industry. Have no doubts about that and it is well documented. There is also the threat of summary dismissal.

All this together with the quiet violence of denying workers a living wage and safe working conditions have been constants in this industry since the days of its birth in the 1970s. Rest in peace Mohammad Khokon. Your death cost this multi-billion dollar industry around 7000 USD.


Jan 30,2008

The Clean Clothes Campaign have issued a press release regarding Mehedi Hassan, a field investigator for the Washington DC based Workers Rights Consortium. I blogged about the arrest yesterday. Here is the press release:


On January 24 Mehedi Hasan, a field investigator for the Washington
D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium, was arrested by the Bangladesh
security forces.  Since then, Mr. Hasan has been held in detention and
authorities have refused to let his family visit him.  Hasan’s arrest
takes place in a context of severe repression by the military-backed
“caretaker” government.  Since January 12, 2007 the government has
banned political and trade union activities.  Both Bangladeshi and
foreign labor rights advocates have been put under surveillance,
interrogated and detained.

See also:
Please contact your embassy in Bangladesh and call for Mr. Hasan’s
immediate release and an end to the repression of labor rights activism.

To find the address of your embassy:


Embassy in Bangladesh

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am contacting you to ask for your immediate intervention in the case
of Mehedi Hasan, a field investigator employed by the U.S. labor rights
organization Worker Rights Consortium.  Since January 24, Mr. Hasan has
been held in detention and authorities have refused to let his family
visit him.  I am deeply concerned about Mr. Hasan’s safety.

The arrest appears to be part of a broader campaign of repression by the
government against labor rights advocates in the wake of recent
demonstrations by apparel workers in Dhaka.  Both Bangladeshi and
foreign labor rights advocates have been put under surveillance,
interrogated and detained.

The Worker Rights Consortium is a Washington, D.C.-based organization
affiliated with 178 U.S. universities and colleges.  Mr. Hasan’s job is
simply to monitor compliance with labor rights codes of conduct in
factories producing clothing for WRC-affiliated universities.  His work
is an ordinary component of corporate social responsibility and an
important part of efforts to assure consumers that the goods they buy
are made under decent and fair working conditions.

I strongly urge you to call on the Bangladeshi government to release Mr.
Hasan immediately.  I also ask you to insist that the government lift
its ban on trade union activities and stop persecuting Bangladeshi and
foreign labor rights advocates.


Worker Rights Consortium bother

  • Filed under: labour
Jan 29,2008

So what is all this about? Anyone know anything?

“There is no legitimate reason for Mehedi Hasan’s arrest and we call upon the government of Bangladesh to effect his immediate and unconditional release”

Authorities have arrested a Bangladeshi man who works for an American labor rights watchdog for allegedly instigating protests by textile workers in violation of emergency rules, a police official said Tuesday.

Mehedi Hasan, a field investigator for the Washington, D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium, was arrested on Saturday at Dhaka’s Zia International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Bangkok, the official said.The official, who is involved in Hasan’s interrogation, cannot be identified because of local briefing rules.

Migrant Workers in the Gulf

  • Filed under: labour
Jan 29,2008

“Do they really cook cats behind the mall?” one journalist asks another on an-all expenses paid visit to Dubai.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” replies her traveling partner.

They are talking about foreign workers who reportedly sleep in the shadow of Dubai’s famous indoor ski slopes at the lavish Mall of the Emirates.

Read the whole article HERE

There has been a lot of press coverage given to the Abu Dhabi dialogue about migrant labour issues. Above is a little taster. I will be posting a few more things.

Jan 3,2008

Ruhul Amin

He spoke out against the exploitation of migrant Bangladeshi workers. He set up an open house and free clinic to serve the bangladeshi workers in Bahrain. I made this blog post about him in 2006. He seemed exceptional in the causes he took up on behalf of working people. One simply doesn’t expect that from our diplomats. Recently, his post was shifted to Paris, and no doubt, he got mired in the Guimet fiasco. I was keenly looking forward to meeting him for the purposes of a project i am involved in - but that will not be. Go well, Mr Amin.

(Rezwan reports that his family said he was under tremendous pressure because of all the nonsense surrounding Guimet. Here is the latest about that re the terms of insurance. )

The BBC and Garment Workers

  • Filed under: labour
Jan 2,2008

Some 10,000 textile workers defy a ban on protests in Dhaka (22/09/07)

Under the photo above, the BBC editor has commented “Garment workers regularly take to the streets.”

Yup. Just that. A total abstraction. As if these lumpen workers just get up and swarm on to the streets with their lathis willy-nilly. Like in Bunuel’s film L’Age D’or where the voiceover says “And sometimes on sundays….” and then you see a building collapse. A total absurdity and if you are reading this I would appeal to you to drop the idiot editor a line. What is regular and sustained, as I have said before, are bad salaries, unsafe working conditions, and building collapses like in Bunuel’s film which kill and maim workers.

This is a classic case of a BBC editor using stock photography to illustrate a story. In this case, it seems to be highly inappropriate to use a photo from months ago to illustrate a totally different problem happening in 2008. How do i know this? The alt tag of the image reveals all! Here is what it says:

Some 10,000 textile workers defy a ban on protests in Dhaka (22/09/07)

And the image shows the workers carrying lathis. Were they carrying lathis yesterday? This is the sort of slapdash stuff the BBC now regularly outputs.


The chain of exploitation

  • Filed under: labour
Dec 27,2007

Not only does child labour exist in the Bangladeshi garment industry ( as we discussed in our documentary Bostrobalikara: Garment Girls of Bangladesh), it seems the garment industry also sources cotton from Uzbekistan where child labour is rife in the cotton industry. Now the pressure is on for Bangladesh to find an alternative source of cotton.

The Environmental Justice website above makes reference to the emptying of schools for the purpose of cotton picking. In our documentary we point out that what child labour does is effectively to displace an adult. And in the displacing of an adult, a family is denied an adult income. That of course has a knock-on effect on the ability of that family to educate a child. It becomes a vicious circle perpetuating poverty and inequality.

Oct 27,2007

Greetings from Nepal. Its been nineteen years since i visited this country. And goodness, what changes…I was smitten by the place last time I was here and this time…well I will be writing about it somewhere else! I get to practice my hindi here, and I think I can understand about 20 percent of simple Nepali conversation. Damn useful when bargaining for nick-nacks.

Anyway, here is an interesting USAID study (pdf) concerning health intervention in the garment industry. They note a positive impact on turnover of staff, absenteeism and work place attitiude to management.

This intervention indicates there are economic, health and welfare benefits of developing workplace health programs. The study findings will add evidence to a broader business case for workplace and company-sponsored health services.

Centre for Policy Dialogue fudge?

  • Filed under: labour
Oct 23,2007

Yet another consultancy report and yet another fudge on the issue of labour in the garment industry? I don’t know. Anyone read the full report the CPD have produced with the South Asian Enterprise Development Facility on the RMG sector in the post-MFA period?

I say fudge because I have just turned to p8 of The Daily Star and am reading what looks like an executive summary. This is the section pertaining to labour laws:

The issues and concerns as regards various acts of the new Labour Law such as working hours, punishment for failing to provide maternity leave, retirment benefit of workers, timely payment of fired workers etc need to be reviewed. Thus government may consider setting up a committee to review different new labour laws and also review other rules and regulations relevant to the garment and textile sector with a view to changing those to suit the emerging demands of the industry.

Too vague and too conditional. A call for more lucrative consultancy than protection of workers, I say.

Film South Asia 07

Oct 15,2007

Film South Asia 07

Has just finished in Nepal. There were 48 films selected for showing out of 300 and I am pleased to say that Bostrobalikara: Garment Girls of Bangladesh was one of them ( soon on Amazon…yes, i know, I am waiting too). Read the synopses of some of the films at the festival here.

Malaysia Airport Photos

Sep 20,2007

Workers in airport, KL

waiting in KL

Suddenly the papers are full of indignation about what has been happening to stranded workers in Malaysia. Well they were a few days ago. These things happen all the time. I repeat: all the time. And at various points of the chain leading to work. Yes the scale is bigger here, and the High Commission shenanigans are disgraceful but let me say it again….these things happen all the time. I blogged about a mini-incident here. Anyway, about time there was a hue and cry. Above photos from Bazuki Muhammad, a photojourno in KL.

Sep 13,2007

Sultana Kamal, former adviser to the care taker government and human rights activist, presided over a ceremony jointly organised by Drishtipat and the makers of the documentary “Bostrobalikara: Garment Girls of Bangladesh” at the Bangladesh Film Centre, Dhanmondi yesterday evening. Funds were distributed to help a few of the garment workers who took part in the documentary. I posted a press release about it earlier.

Tanvir Mokammel, the director of the documentary, told me the recipients were happy and quite emotional. Below is Noorjahan - she was the main character in the doc. The little girl in the red dress is Nadia. Nadia lost her father in the Spectrum disaster.

Noor Jahan


Sep 10,2007

In two day’s time, prominent human rights activist Sultana Kamal will preside over a small ceremony to recognise the courage of some garment workers who came forward and spoke about their experiences in the garment industry on film. A one-off fund has been established by Drishtipat and the film makers of Bostrobalikara. I quote from the Bangla press release below.

Asif Saleh, one of the founders of Drishtipat said: “Drishtipat
launched in the UK last year with a dance play and panel discussion on
the plight of the garment workers. This fund is an extension of our
work to continue to highlight the ongoing problems faced by these
workers who through their toil have done so much for the country.”

Tanvir Mokammel, the director of the documentary, added: ” I am
extremely pleased to be able to make a gesture, with the help of
Drishtipat, to the brave girls who came forward to speak to us on
film about their lives in the garment industry. I consider it a great
privilege that my team could film them and make their voices more
audible through the medium of this documentary.

The funds are a one-off payment and will go towards
schooling, medicines, for baby sitting provision, the relief of debt
and for a marriage celebration among other things.