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Undercover Investigation Exposes More Rot in Bangladesh

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams went undercover at Monde Apparels in Dhaka, Bangladesh, exposing child labor, blocked emergency exits, and an inadequate number of fire extinguishers at a factory that allegedly makes clothing for Walmart, Asics and Wrangler. The media scrutiny, coming after the factory building collapse that killed 1,127 people in Bangladesh, increases pressure on the nation to reform its garment industry.

The CBS footage, captured with hidden cameras when the news team posed as American buyers, showed a number of safety violations and included an interview with a worker who admitted to being 12 years old. At the same time, the manager claimed that all workers were over 18. The manager of the factory also said that they were making one million boxer shorts for Walmart, though they were not a Walmart approved facility. The order was the result of subcontracting.

The video also highlighted a bigger problem in Bangladesh – for all the talk of reform, most of the country’s 5,000 factories are not involved in any of the safety and labor processes that would bring them up to code. These small and medium sized factories often take subcontracted orders from certified suppliers, creating serious vulnerability for workers and international firms.

Despite years of claiming that conditions are improving, workers continue to make poverty wages and labor in unsafe conditions. The 12 year old at the factory claimed that she used a fake birth certificate to get employment. She makes $50 a month.

The lack of improvement in Bangladesh highlights the pressure of economics and cynicism in sourcing decisions. The factory manager could obviously tell that the worker was underage, but chose to approve the birth certificate rather than question it. Large, compliant factories face pressure from major global firms to cut prices which leads to secret subcontracting.

Williams also visited two more factories in Bangladesh and secretly recorded workers spraying toxic chemicals without respirators to give jeans a distressed look. In a factory making children’s’ clothing, Williams recorded more evidence of child workers.

More shockingly, her interviews indicated that workers often suffer physical abuse at the hands of managers and owners. In an interview, Tahmina Akhter Sadia said that she began working at Rana Plaza when she was 11 years old. She survived the building collapse, but on the day it occurred she said that she had been slapped by her supervisor and ordered to go inside the building after she reported cracks.

 

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