A while back I wrote about Hira, who was made to work 22 hours a day for 2 months straight. Hearing that story made me want to let everyone know what goes into the clothes they buy at Walmart!

But the situation is much more complex than that. I have a friend Zakia who works as a social worker at one of the garment factories. The western buyers make it mandatory for there to be a social worker in the factories. But the company told Zakia that she is to tell the western buyers only what they want her to tell. Zakia wants to keep her job, and so she complies. She felt bad about all the lying that she had to do, so she quit. But after a few weeks of trying to find another job, she went back to the factory. When Zakia heard about Hira, she was not surprised. She said she knows other people who have swollen limbs, one single lady in particular — who is sick, but can’t take time to rest or recover as she has two small children– the little time off that she has needs to be spent taking care of her children. Even Zakia does not get enough time off. Sometimes even the one day a week that is her day off has to be a regular work day. The western buyers for the most part want good working conditions, fair pay, legal hours etc. for the garment workers, but making it happen is another thing entirely — as the companies promise one thing and do another. Where the blame goes is a sticky question.

But that’s only half the story. A friend of mine estimates that 400 factories do comply with labour laws. One factory named Far East Knitting and Dyeing Industries Limited was showcased in a local magazine the other day as having their own effluent treatment plant that treats their wastewater, a child-care unit, a full-time doctor, fire extinguishers, women ‘welfare officers’ etc. I have heard from friends that the knit factories are known to not over-work their employees, and they even send buses full of employees back to their home villages during holidays.

Bangladesh needs the Ready Made Garment Industry. 2.2 billion people work in the industry. It’s a huge source of income. But it is hard to see so many people work so hard for so little. A friend that Jacob used to play football with got a job in a garment factory. Every few months, he gets enough time off to come home on an evening bus, and spends the night at home, then in the morning he leaves again to go back for work.