When you purchase a shirt in Wal-Mart, do you ever imagine young women in Bangladesh forced to work from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days a week, paid just 9 cents to 20 cents an hour, who are denied health care and maternity leave; screamed at to work faster; with monitored bathroom visits; and who will be fired for daring to complain or ask for their rights?
At the Beximco factory in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone in Bangladesh, there are 1,000 workers, at least 80 percent of them young women, sewing shirts and pants for Wal-Mart and other retailers. Beximco is a sweatshop, where human rights are systematically violated.
*Sweatshop Conditions Beximco/Wal-Mart
*Dhaka Export Processing Zone (EPZ)
Forced Overtime: 12 1/2 hours Seven Days a Week 80-hour Work Week
*Daily workshift: 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
*Seven days a week: Monday through Sunday
*At the factory 87 hours a week -- paid for 80 hours (the hour lunch break is unpaid)
*Paid less than 1/3 of the legal overtime rate
*Not uncommon to be forced to remain in the factory beyond 8:00 p.m., working a 24-hour shift right through the night
*Days off are very rare
In December 1998, twenty workers were illegally fired at Beximco and denied their legal severance pay for refusing to work an all-night shift on top of their daily 12 1/2 hours of work. Among those illegally fired were: Md. Shahjahan, Emdadul Hague, Khalilur Raham, and Samima Akter.
Under Bangladesh's labor law the regular work week is set at 48 hours, with overtime limited to 12 hours a week, making 60 hours the maximum allowable work week. The Bangladesh labor code requires one full day off a week and overtime to be paid at double the standard hourly rate. Wal-Mart and its contractor, Beximco, are systematically violating these laws.
9 to 20 cents an hour
40% to 70% below the legal wage
$4.28 to $9.52 a week
Under EPZ regulations in Bangladesh, sewing operators are to be paid 3360 taka a month for a 48-hour work week. In U.S. dollars, this amounts to $69.28 a month, $15.99 a week, and 33 cents an hour.
However, at the Beximco factory the women sewing Wal-Mart garments are illegally paid just 2,000 TK per month, which means they are earning just $41.24 each month, $9.52 per week, and 20 cents an hour. These women are being cheated of over 40 percent of their legal wage.
Helpers, who assist the sewers by supplying the production line among other tasks, are paid just 9 cents an hour, less than 75 percent of the legal norm.
Overtime work, according to Bangladeshi law, must be paid at double the standard hourly wage of 33 cents an hour. The legal overtime rate, therefore, should be 66 cents an hour, but the Beximco workers earn just 20 cents.
Wal-Mart Workers in Bangladesh Earn:
20 cents an hour
$9.52 a week
$69.28 a month
$831.34 a year
9 cents an hour
$4.28 a week
$18.56 a month
$222.68 a year
Shame on Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart and its contractor Beximco do not pay the overtime premium. In fact, as we have seen, they do not even pay the legal hourly wage of 33 cents. They pay only 20 cents an hour and pay overtime at this same illegal 20-cent rate.
These workers are locked in poverty, being cheated out of over $20 a week in legal wages by the largest retailer in the world. The workers are being illegally paid just $16 for a full 80-hour workweek. For the forced 80-hour week, they should be earning at least $36.96. Surely Wal-Mart, with $7.6 billion in annual operating profits, could afford this wage!
Some of the poorest people in the world are being illegally robbed of their wages, driving them deeper into misery. Even the 33-cent an hour wage does not come close to meeting basic subsistence needs.
This is why in Bangladesh there is no difference in the malnutrition rate of children whether their parents are unemployed or are working in factories sewing garments for the largest U.S. companies. Even the legal minimum wage is set too low to allow the workers to climb out of misery.
No maternity leave: At Beximco, legal maternity leave is denied and benefits are not paid.
Denied health care: By law, a factory the size of Beximco should have a health clinic, with a doctor present. Beximco has nothing. There is an empty first aid box for show. The women workers and their children have absolutely no health coverage or protection.
Access to bathrooms limited: The workers need a ticket and permission to use the bathrooms. Access is limited and bathroom breaks are timed.
Maltreatment/cursing/yelling: There is constant pressure to meet the high daily production goal; the workers are yelled at and cursed at to work faster.
Cheated of their tiny savings: In Bangladesh there is a government regulated savings system whereby a small deduction is made each pay period from the workers' wages and deposited in the Provident Fund, which the factory maintains. The workers can withdraw their savings from this fund when they leave the factory or are fired. It functions as a kind of severance pay, to act as a bridge or means of support while new work is sought. But most workers at Beximco, who have been forced to leave, report that they are cheated of their savings.
No worker has seen Wal-Mart's Code of Conduct: Wal-Mart says it has a corporate code of conduct which guarantees the human and worker rights of anyone sewing Wal-Mart garments around the world. Even by industry standards, Wal-Mart's code of conduct is very limited and extremely weak. Yet the workers at Beximco have never even seen this weak code of conduct. Wal-Mart's code is not posted and it has never been explained to the workers. There has been no attempt to implement the code.
No right to organize: In Bangladesh's EPZs, unions and collective contracts are prohibited by law. The workers have no rights; the government authorities do nothing to implement labor law. The workers are fired for daring to protest forced 24-hour shifts. Denied their right to organize, the workers are isolated and vulnerable -- easily cheated of their legal wages and benefits.
Falling Real Wages
Devaluation and inflation have further eroded the real purchasing power of the Bangledeshi workers' wages.
The local currency, the taka, has lost 19% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 1995. (In 1995, there were TK 40.90 to $1.00. By October 1998, the taka had fallen to TK 48.50 to $1.00.)
There is a five to six percent inflation rate each year.
Greed in the Global Economy-
Wal-Mart and its contractor pay no taxes to sew their garments in the Dhaka EPZ. All that they leave behind is the illegal 20-cent an hour wages and some small rent and fees.
In 1998, total government revenues in Bangladesh amounted to $3.872 billion (TK 187.8 billion), a sum far too low to even provide the most basic services to the over 125 million people in the country.
On the other hand, Wal-Mart's sales in 1998 amounted to $137.6 billion, which means that Wal-Mart's annual sales are 36 times greater than the total revenues of the Bangladeshi government. Yet Wal-Mart does not pay a single cent in taxes or tariffs! Nothing!
Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations in the world, is being forced to subsidize Wal-Mart.
Due to an inadequate tax base and overall low government revenues, Bangladesh must rely upon foreign aid to meet more than one-half of its entire development budget.
In the United States, Wal-Mart also seeks multi-million-dollar state, county and city subsidies as a condition for locating its stores. But there is another indirect subsidy as well: one half of Wal-Mart's 720,000 employees, or "associates" as the company calls them, qualify for federal assistance under the food stamp program. Wages at Wal-Mart, now the largest private sector employer in the U.S., start as low as $5.75 an hour.
U.S. Companies Import 732 million garments a year from Bangladesh
There are 1.2 million garment workers in Bangladesh.
In 1998, U.S. companies imported $1.63 billion worth of apparel made in Bangladesh. This was a 12 percent increase from 1997.
In 1998, Bangladesh exported 732 million garements to the U.S., making Bangladesh the 5th largest exporter worldwide of apparel to the United States.
Apparel exports to the U.S. increased another 8 percent in the first three months of 1999; Bangladesh now sends the U.S. 67 million garments per month.
We, the American people, are in a unique position to effect change. American companies import, and we purchase, a tremendous amount of garments made in Bangladesh each year. We have the voice to demand that Wal-Mart and other U.S. companies respect the human and worker rights of the people of Bangladesh.
What Can We Do?
We can have an impact.
We do have a voice.
Wal-Mart sells more clothing in North America than any other company in the United States or Canada. We purchase this clothing. That gives us a voice and the power to demand that Wal-Mart respect human and worker rights in Bangladesh.
Write to or Call Wal-Mart:
Mr. David Glass, President & CEO
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, AR 72716
phone: (501) 273-4000
fax: (501) 273-4894
Urge Wal-Mart to:
Respect all local labor laws in Bangladesh, including EPZ wage regulations;
Not cut and run, rather stay and work with Beximco management to bring the plant into compliance with local and international human and worker rights standards;
Immediately reinstate all illegally fired workers, with back pay;
Guarantee payment, at the very least, of all legal wage rates, overtime premiums, and benefits, especially maternity benefits and the savings fund;
End the seven day a week forced overtime; all overtime must be voluntary and paid at double the standard hourly rate; ensure that the workers have at least one full day off a week;
End the maltreatment and abuse of the workers and stop the monitoring of bathroom visits;
and Respect the workers right to organize -- the most fundamental of all internationally recognized labor rights.
Yes or No: Will Wal-Mart allow the workers in Bangladesh their right to organize?
Wal-Mart should stop hiding its production around the world.
Wal-Mart should trust the American people. If Wal-Mart's policy is not to profit by exploiting illegal sweatshop conditions around the world then why should they be afraid of providing the American people with the names and addresses of the factories that make the Wal-Mart goods we purchase? Surely that is not too much to ask. It's just a matter of transparency.