imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for June, 2006

Jun 29,2006


Knitwear manufacturers have recorded a surge in exports thanks to the world cup! Jerseys and other clothing are selling like hot cakes obviously. I wonder if Zizou’s Number 10 strips are made in Bangladesh? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I want one! Allez Les Bleus!

Jun 28,2006

Sometimes the staggering backwardness of Arab societies is mind boggling. One reads weird things and one is simply left speechless. No, I am not about to launch into an anti-american tirade disguised as an anti-arab tirade. In this post my axe-grinding and teeth gnashing has nothing to do with my usual favourite topic of Arabs being lackeys of the US. The Kuwait Times today reports that the United Arab Emirates has sent home more than 1,000 smuggled child jockeys. These children had been trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other places. This is what I read in Wikipedia about child camel jockeys:

Child camel jockeys are often sexually and physically abused; most are physically and mentally stunted, as they are deliberately starved to prevent weight gain. According to a documentary by the American television channel HBO and the Ansar Burney Trust [2], many of the children are only fed two biscuits a day with water. Others are forced to wear metal helmets in the scorching heat of the desert so they bleed through their noses and lose weight that way.

Forced to work up to 18 hours a day, those children who fall asleep are punished with electric shocks while those who disobey orders are tied in chains and beaten.

Uncle Sam has apparently been concerned about camel racing and children for years. As recently as August last year it issued a fact sheet about the victims of camel racing. Despite the influence the US wields in these states, it has not been able to make much headway it seems. Tnis is an extract from the US State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2006:

Qatar is a destination country for men and women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines, and Indonesia who migrate willingly, but are subsequently trafficked into involuntary servitude as domestic workers and laborers. The problem of trafficking of foreign children for camel jockey servitude in Qatar — which has been highlighted in previous Reports — was thoroughly addressed by Government of Qatar action over the last year, though independent confirmation of the problem’s complete elimination is not yet available.

The US has admonished Bangladesh in the past for failing to adequately fight international trafficking. In 2004 the US blacklisted Bangladesh and moved it from Tier 2 to Tier 3 category of blacklisting ( = countries not making significant efforts). In that report it noted that Bangladeshi boys (as young as four) are trafficked into the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and forced to work as camel jockeys and beggars. Women and children from rural areas in Bangladesh are trafficked to urban centers for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work.

British companies getting jittery?

  • Filed under: labour
Jun 26,2006

Texco is afraid to give out fresh orders to the Bangladesh garment industry. Oh dear. Anyone know anything about Texco or is it a typo?

Qadiani cleansing promised

Jun 23,2006

The International Khatme Nabuwat Andolon ( the last word means movement; no idea what Khatme Nabuwat means - can anyone help?) are again promising to spill Ahmadiyya blood. They are fanatical enough (shielded enough?) to even take out an advert in a rag called the Daily Inqilab - famed for its intolerance - promising murder and mayhem. This time the Khatme Nabuwat have targetted 22 Ahmadi families living in Dhaka. The BNP government has fanned the flames of bigotry against this sect by banning Ahmadiyya publications - I believe in 2004. The High Court overturned the ban but the hatred and fanaticism remain.

Jun 22,2006

Is this some bolshevik trade union demand? Well in this instance, it is the demand of the Commerce minister! And for good measure he wants garment factories to arrange group insurance! All this when he was meeting some victims of factory accidents. But as ever, he couldn’t quite manage it without a little bit of paternalism:

“The factory owners and workers should work together like members of a
family so that any untoward incident does not occur in future.” Members of a family eh - I wonder who the big daddy is?

Jun 21,2006

Get your act together or lose our markets …is the message Stefan Frowein has underlined at a meeting with the Commerce ministry concerning the continuing labour disputes in the garments industry.

Football and Symbolism

Jun 19,2006

Abul Koyair with Brazil shirt
Abul Koyair, of bangladeshi origin and one of the two brothers victimised by the recent so-called anti-terror action by the London police in East London sported a Brazilian football T shirt in a demo that he led over the weekend -  the T shirt had the name “Menezes” written across the back. Menezes was the innocent Brazilian shot dead in the London underground in another anti-terror cock up by the London police. Koyair’s Brazil t-shirt attracts attention and says loudly that shooting innocent people, raiding people’s homes for no good reason and demonising entire communities doesn’t do anything for the “struggle against terror.”

Painstil with butcher's rag

But football symbolism can go badly wrong. After Ghana’s first goal and and at the end of its well earned and tremendous victory over the Czech, one of the Ghanian players pulled out an Israeli flag from his socks and started waving it around in front of the cameras. Bizarre to say the least. It has caused bemusement, bewilderment, anger, interest and a whole host of emotions throughout the world. It has also elicited an apology from the Ghana Football Association.
It transpires that three ( though I can only find two) Ghanian players play for teams in Israel. So why did the player, John Painstil, do it? His association has put it down to his ignorance and naivete. He himself is quoted as saying

“I love your country,” Pantsil told Israeli reporters after the game. “You’ve done everything for me, and thanks to you I made it to the World Cup. So I wanted to bring you some happiness in return.”

Aww. How sweet, don’t you think? Except it doesn’t quite ring true if we read what Assaf Geffen writes in Haaretz online about the treatment faced by Africans in Israel:

For example Paintsil’s fellow countrymen, and other Africans, may not have lifted the Israeli flag but have been working here for years, and are subjected to inhuman treatment from us. Paintsil’s partner was no exception - she was deported before being allowed back after someone at Maccabi Tel Aviv made a phone call. Paintsil and other African players receive VIP treatment from Israeli fans, including monkey calls and thrown bananas.

But perhaps there was a rational objective behind this stupid act - there are rumours that he was to be kicked out of his club in Tel Aviv. Now that the Israeli sports minister has thanked him and his team also has had to make a positive statement, the gesture might have been some kind of calculated insurance policy? And no doubt his partner will get the red carpet treatment at the airport from now on?

More jobs for the boys

  • Filed under: labour
Jun 19,2006

With news of continuing agitation in the garment sector, Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority, which recently replaced one army man with another army man at the Dhaka Export Processing Zone (DEPZ), now want three “Security Consultants cum-Executives” for DEPZ, Admajee EPZ and Karnaphuli EPZ. The applicants have to be “retired armed forces personnel not below the rank of Major & equivalent.” 25,000 takas per month after taxes. Roughly equivalent to the pay of 10 garment workers.

Jun 18,2006


Lingering problems in certain garment factories in Savar re-ignites violence with upto a hundred reported injured.

Jun 16,2006

There is a film festival going on in South Korea at the moment and the theme is “Prospering Asia, Reconciliation and Co-existence.” A documentary film “Tini” by Enamul Karim Nirjhar is the Bangladeshi contribution to the festival - its about the life of the architect Mazharul Islam. I know next to nothing about Mr Islam or his work and so I will move on to the theme of the festival itself.

Prosperity, reconciliation and co-existence - what prospects in Bangladesh? Big topics and so let me choose …um…reconciliation. Yes. Feelings run high when history is revisited. One particular issue is that between those who were pro-liberation and those who were not. It is a divide which is sufficient for endless extra-parliamentary agitation. And sadly it is also a divide which is sufficiently incendiary to invite murder and mayhem. It is an instrument for exclusion ( in political life as well as professional life) and is a pretext for disruptive activity. And it extends to the blogosphere! Those who broadly label themselves as pro-liberation delight in flagging up images of BNP leaders with the anti-liberation Jamaat. They blush or become hostile when the same Jamaat leaders are shown with their favourite pro-liberation leaders during times of alliance with each other. The pro-libs believe their role in the liberation war has given them a god-given right to exclude those who were anti-liberation BUT only when it suits them to do so. They will gladly entertain alliances, however informal, at other times.

There are many in Bangladesh who rightly have come to see the constant shifting alliances and relationships between pro-liberation and anti-liberation sides since 1975 for what they are - a big game where what is at stake is not principle but the capture of state power.

Implacable foes - real ones - have sat down together and thrashed a way forward, no matter how difficult, in many countries. But not it seems bangladesh where the foe is perhaps not as implacable as imagined. Jamaat does not represent different economic interests. Indeed the parties are indinstinguishable on many issues. Jamaat may have war criminals and bone-headed fundamentalists ( as Awami League has its own skeletons) but politics is a contested space and the reality is you simply can’t wish them away. You have to deal with them within the arena of politics.

The riots last month principally showed up the absence of corporate culture in the garment industry - particularly the culture of dialogue. Nevertheless the most exploited and the least empowered workers now have managed to sit down and thrash something out with the owners of the factories no matter how imperfect - and through dialogue. Is there a chance our main political parties might try to do the same? Unlikely.

Jun 15,2006

Recently my immediate family and I have taken a hit or two in terms of quite serious diseases. The experience has left me dazed but at the same time has given me a wonderful insight into healthcare - both modern and alternative - as it operates in Bangladesh. I can’t possibly be exhaustive in this post but I will kick off with the case of Khassani baba and then later when I am more compos mentis perhaps relate some more examples and attempt an anthropological analysis. Well no maybe I won’t attempt an anthropological analysis…

So, anyway, Khassani baba. He comes from India and has a social network the size of which even Google Inc. would be envious of. He peddles remedies to those with medical complaints and business worries. His devotees often wear a ring he gives them - not unlike the flashy stones handed out by that other more famous “spiritual guru” or charlatan - depending on your point of view - Sai Baba. His “patients” are wealthy and include the most powerful families in Bangladesh. They will swear to god about the effectiveness of his baba-ness but at the same time will make the necessary trips to India or Singapore to avail themselves of more modern approaches to healthcare….how they reconcile their faith in the bearded (mehti stained beard and hair) baba and at the same time engage in health tourism I do not know. Such is the insecurity of our upper-middle and upper classes…

One family member has a degenerative neurological condition. Khassani baba came along and cut in half 18 lemons per day for 11 days on his knees. He charged 11,000 takas per visit and the patient supplied the lemons and the knife. Khassani baba explained that the money would go towards the slaughter of 11 goats in Delhi, India and that hujurs would be praying each day for the patient. Mr Khassani predicted a 90 percent improvement ( yes he does fractions) within a month or so. After the slaughter of so many innocent lemons and the far away goats (allegedly), the sick relative, a physician in his professional life, interestingly saw no improvement whatsoever.

Jun 14,2006

A deal has been signed by trade unions, the government and the factory owners:

A tripartite deal granting garment workers due rights was signed in Dhaka on Monday among the government and the owners and labourers of apparel factories in an effort to stop labour unrest that has struck the apparel industry of Bangladesh.



Jun 11,2006

…75% of the tea which is grown in Bangladesh is drunk within the country. The only significant export markets are Pakistan and Russia. And the farms of Sylhet have a problem. A drought last year killed one in 10 of the tea bushes, which haven’t yet been replaced….

Read more HERE

I know a top director from Duncan Brothers. He never mentions the tea problems. He only takes of diversification and company politics.

Jun 7,2006

Bangladesh has come a long way since its military dictator days. Indeed only the other day Khaleda Zia sacked the chairman of the Dhaka Economic Processing Zone - a certain Brigadier General Zakir Hossain - for being less than upto the job of sorting out continuing labour unrest in the garment factories. So now everyone has been expecting the appointment of an astute civil servant versed in social dialogue, and with the appropriate set of skills and the necessary diplomatic tact to reassure all the concerned parties.  And so who was appointed? appears to be another military hard man - Brigadier General Ashraf Abdullah Yusuf.