27 May 2013

Exclusive: inside the sweatshops of Bangladesh

Amid walkouts and protests over poor working conditions, one factory boss in Bangladesh tells Channel 4 News that western brands are to blame for haggling over every last penny.

The town of Ashulia is home to scores of clothing factories serving some of the world’s best known high street brands.

Mid-morning and we find thousands of workers walking off the job. Most of them are women who make clothes exclusively for H&M, the Swedish retail giant and Bangladesh’s biggest clothing buyer. The factory where they work is one of more than 20 in Ashulia forced to shut because of unrest.

Last month, the collapse of the the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka killed over 1,100 people in the biggest industrial disaster of our age.

In Ashulia, one of the factory managers told Channel 4 News that his clothes went to H&M in America and 25 countries across Europe. He said he had sent his workers home because they were frightened by local unrest – and that he’d love to give them a pay rise if only he could.

“Our factory is very safe,” he said. But when he tried to open the door of a fire escape it was padlocked shut.

Earlier this month, H&M joined other multinationals in signing up to new agreement on fire and building safety. In a statement, H&M said: “We support the workers in their struggle for higher wages. We have a regular presence at supplier factories. The last full audit in the mentioned factory was in April 2013. From our audit protocol, we can tell that the factory has followed our code of conduct in regards to wages and fire safety.”

The workers here are squeezed – by factory owners who need to make a profit – and by consumers and high street brands overseas who want cheap, cheap prices.

And until the rules of this supply chain change, nothing for these people is likely to change very much.