By NIDA ALI
November 24, 2017
“Mahnure, 22, traveled to Bangladesh to uncover poor working conditions in garment factories, some of which we buy from every day without thinking twice. “
In a small swindling factory in Naranjang, Bangladesh, Janis Mahnure wiped the beads of sweat dripping from her forehead, down her nose, and onto her neck. She couldn’t breathe as she carried her sweat-soaked dress and passed the little girls sweeping the excess cotton off the floor. Her eyes watered and rested on children threading the machines, running around and making fun of each other. Mahnure approached a girl sweating just as much as she and asked her if she thought her job was hard.
“The little girl smiled and said, ’Yes, look at my face,’” said Mahnure, an adjunct media professor at Hunter College, “‘of course it’s hard. But I’m happy that I’m getting money.’”
“Some of the kids were 13, 14 or 15 and they were handling large machinery. But they were all happy and smiling, unsupervised,” said Mahnure.
Mahnure, 22, traveled to Bangladesh to uncover poor working conditions in garment factories, some of which we buy from every day without thinking twice. She came across sweltering hot factories with little ventilation, no emergency exits and child laborers, as well as developed factories with air conditioning, fire extinguishers, and fire proof doors.
“My perception was altered when I came back,” said Mahnure, “Seeing these factories and progress, I think it’s doable. What we’re asking isn’t unreasonable for Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh has come under scrutiny after the fire in Tazneem Fashion Factory in 2012 which killed 112 people. The collapse of Rana Plaza killed 1,138 factory workers which was prominent for its child labor. Poor working conditions in garment factories that produce clothes for large international brands have been protested since these incidents.
“These big companies need to fund the fixing of these industries,” said Mahnure, after visiting these factories, “Their marketing budgets are so huge, but their manufacturing budgets are so small.”
The garment industry is a large component of the Bangladeshi economy. While it may pose human rights violations, it serves as the livelihood of many Bangladeshi workers and families of low income.
Bangladeshi organizations like Alliance and Accord monitor safe working conditions for factories by forging agreements between international fashion brands that we buy from, such as American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie and Fitch, and trade unions.
“The system is already there,” said Mahnure, “It’s just a matter of pressuring international companies to stop using the factories that haven’t completely complied with all of Accord and Alliance rules.”
Larger factories such as Monde, Starlight and Snowtext refused to let her in. The smaller factories she visited changed Mahnure’s perception of the possibility of change in Bangladesh. She visited a small screening and printing factory and walked into a room full of workers singing and dancing to Bengali pop music. As she watched a little boy stamp blue cheetah prints on a light blue shirt, Mahnure asked the kid his age.
“He said he was 17, but I swear he was 12,” she said, “He said it like he was trained to say that and he desperately wanted to keep his job. I wanted to uncover factory conditions and give these workers a voice, but then I noticed their desperateness to keep their jobs and their happiness with their coworkers.”
The garment industry is a large component of the Bangladeshi economy. While it may pose human rights violations, it serves as the livelihood of many Bangladeshi workers and families of low income. The garment business is not one that can be eliminated for its cheap labor and unchecked working conditions. Zafar Sobhan, a Bangladeshi journalist, wrote, “The poverty rate has plummeted from 80 percent down to less than 30 percent today, GDP growth has averaged around 5-6 percent for over 20 years, and the garment industry has had a lot to do with it.”
After noticing the willingness of the workers to remain in their conditions, Mahnure said, “The truth is Bangladesh needs the garment industry. Without it, double its population would be forced beggars and pushed way below poverty rates.”