By Mohammad Rubel Mia
The Bangladeshi garments industry, a global manufacturing hub for readymade clothes which are then exported worldwide, has been thriving over the past few decades. The industry has played a pivotal role in the improvement of the industrial sector in Bangladesh. Readymade garments are now among Bangladesh’s major exports.
It is unfortunate, however, that workers in the garments manufacturing industry lead pathetic lives, living from hand to mouth and barely able to eke out a living and sustain their basic needs. Their income is insufficient to provide even minimal health care, medical services or hygienic housing while access to education and other facilities remains a distant dream.
Female garment manufacturing labour in the factories, which resemble sweat shops, suffer diverse kinds of ailments, from regular headaches, fainting spells, eye strain, cuts and injuries, fatigue and frustration to heart disease.
They often have to work the night shift to complete huge volumes of orders and instances of sexual harassment by the supervisors or male workers are common in most garment factories, leading to a variety of sexual diseases. Additionally, female garments manufacturers are largely ignored by society and normally deemed to be an inferior class of people.
Most women appointed to work in a garment factory are given the lowest rung of jobs, like machine operators, finishing assistants and so on. The nature of these jobs is very monotonous and there is no opportunity for individual inspiration, aspiration or satisfaction in these jobs.
Additionally, there is no security for most of the jobs in the garments industry in Bangladesh. This kind of job is primarily temporary in nature. Most of these workers are employed when required and, after the orders are completed, most workers are sacked.
Most of the female workers tend to live in unhygienic slum clusters, usually many of them together in cramped rooms. The most difficult part of their situation is access to toilets, which are filthy and unsanitary and lead to a proliferation of disease.
Chronic health problems are a common phenomenon among workers in garment factories and particularly adversely affect women’s health. Given the hot and humid climate of Bangladesh, these unsanitary and cramped conditions lead to the extensive occurrence of illness and disease among the workers.
Sexual harassment is another major issue for female employees. Sexual harassment ranges from abuse directed at a woman, suggestive remarks, or verbal and demeaning comments to unwanted touching and grabbing and other kinds of physical attack. These incidents are rarely reported for fear of losing their jobs. Female employees also shy away from reveal any figures on this matter, fearful that revealing any data on sexual harassment would further decrease their marriage-worthiness. Hence, sexual harassment is most widespread among the young garment workers.
Lack of empathy from co-workers is another cause of strain for female workers. Though workers almost spend 12 hours in the workplace daily, making the workplace their second home, they do not even encounter common courtesies or a friendly environment. Most female workers allege that they are beaten in the factory and face rudeness.
Exploitation in terms of extra working hours, lower wages and other such issues appear to be taken for granted by the majority of these factory workers and daily wage earners because they are always in fear of losing their jobs.
(The author has done his Masters in Sociology at New Delhi’s South Asian University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)