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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Textile struggles in Bangladesh
Eyewitness Account
By James Treasure-Evans
War on Want project officer in Bangladesh

Many seeks jobs in the textile industry
Textile and clothing exports are growing in developing countries, but many workers are struggling to improve their pay and working conditions. Bangladesh has one of the largest textile industries in the world.

Bangladesh relies on the garment sector and retail chain stores for over 75% of its foreign earnings.

Although more jobs have been created as a result, poverty pay and poor conditions are the norm.

Sagor and his wife both work in a factory producing garments for a UK clothing shop.

Twelve years ago they, like thousands of others, left their homes and villages to work 13 hour shifts every day of the week in the dirty, noisy factories of Dhaka, for 20 a month.

Key issues at the trade talks

Sagor explained that it didn't matter which factory they worked in, who owned it, or whom they supplied - the conditions were always bad.

As a qualified cutting supervisor, Sagor was one of the lucky ones, earning over twice the minimum wage.

He knew of workers in his factory earning less than half what he earned.

"I don't know how they survive," he says. "We can only afford to eat meat once a week and only have enough money to travel to our home town to see our son twice a year."

Benefits missing

Sagor showed War on Want a copy of his 'Handbook for Workers'.

It said that workers should receive a house allowance of 30% of their salary, that they should get a medical allowance of 2 a month, free child care, an eight hour working day, a maximum of 16 hours a week overtime on double pay, 20 days annual leave with full pay and 12 weeks maternity leave.

They have received none of these stated benefits.

Sagor had only just received his pay cheque for March and his debts were mounting up.

Union drive

Sick of the widespread abuses they see everyday in the garment factories, Sagor and his wife have decided to fight back.

Although illegal, and at the risk of losing their jobs, they are working with the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) to educate workers about their rights.

The NGWF has increased its membership to 20,000 over the last year.

NGWF members campaign nationally for the implementation of basic Codes of Conduct and improvements to workers rights.

This year they successfully campaigned for greater health and safety measures as well as holiday entitlements for workers.

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