Made In Poverty
9 out of 10 textile workers interviewed in Bangladesh said they could not afford enough food for themselves and their families and were forced to skip meals or go into debt. 72% of workers interviewed could not afford medical treatment. In Bangladesh, one in three workers interviewed was separated from their children because of inadequate income.
A Bangladeshi 21-year-old single mother, Tania, who works up to 12 hours a day in a factory supplying clothes to brands including Kmart and earns $169 a month, or about 55 cents an hour. She was still breastfeeding when she moved from her village for the job and tried in vain to make it work, but Tania was eventually forced to send her baby home to be cared for by her parents.
Another worker profiled in the photo essay, Chameli, earns about 51 cents an hour for her work as a helper in a factory in Bangladesh that supplies clothes to brands including Big W. Her family cannot afford to send any of her three daughters to school and the eldest, aged 14, has also started working in a garment factory. The family of five live in a crowded compound on the outskirts of Dhaka in a 3.6 metre by 2.4 metre room, where the two youngest girls sleep on the floor.
In Bangladesh the current minimum wage for garment workers is $12820 per month effective from December 2018, which is 49% of a living wage. The flow-on effect of these poverty wages is everywhere. Workers’ rent remains unpaid or half paid regularly. Even when seriously ill, they cannot afford to rest and loans are needed to cover treatment expenses. They walk to work to keep travel costs to a minimum. They buy and wear very cheap and poor quality clothes. There is no spare money to cover a family crisis or an emergency. Workers universally reported that they don’t go for outings or spend anything on recreation. They are forced to miss out on visiting family or any relatives because of the costs associated with travel.
In Bangladesh, 56% of workers reported that they experienced wage cuts regularly; another 43% found inaccurate calculation of their working hours. Workers trapped in debt and earning poverty wages also face a number of other unfair practices — and their low wages make them more susceptible to exploitation and accepting abuse as part of what they must “put up with” to keep their jobs.