17 January 2013
Last updated at 00:29
Bangladeshi clothing factories source their fabric either from abroad or from the domestic textile industry. Gathering fabric is the first stage in a clothing factory. The fabric is stored and sorted before it is sent to the next stage.
It is then cut according to a computer generated design. The fabrics are cut either by hand or by machines. Timing is key here. These men have to cut a certain number of clothes per hour. Any delay results in an escalation of costs.
The cut fabric is then sent for stitching which is carried out mostly by women. More than 80% of the country’s nearly 3.5 million garment factory workers are women. They work in a shift pattern that normally ranges from eight to 10 hours. They also get paid for overtime. Thanks to women like these, Bangladesh is now the world’s second-largest ready to wear clothes exporter, after China.
Once the clothes are stitched they are moved to a section where women fix buttons and collars as required. The sector is the main source of industrial employment in the country. According to the World Bank, it has helped to lift tens of thousands of women out of poverty.
The final product goes through various quality control checks. This is essential as faulty products will be quickly rejected by the Western clients and thus hurt profitability.
The minimum wage of the garment workers is around $37 (£23) per month and unions say it is among the lowest in the world for this type of work. But factory owners say that many workers earn an average salary of around $70 a month including overtime.
With lots of cotton and other flammable materials around, fire accidents are not uncommon in Bangladeshi factories. More than 300 people have been killed in various fire accidents since 2006. Many factories, like this one, have taken fire safety measures in recent years. But critics say not all factories have required safety measures in place.
Some factories have day care centres to look after the children of the workers. With their low salaries, factory workers cannot afford private child care. They often bring their parents or relatives from villages to look after their children. Again, not all factories have these labour friendly facilities.
Though the garments industry is generating billions of dollars in revenue, female workers claim they have not benefited from the boom. Some say that even after working for 20 years, their quality of life has not improved. In recent years, some workers have returned to their villages saying they were unable to make ends meet.
Most workers do not have permanent contracts. Worker turnover is also high. Trade unions are not allowed in the garment factories. There are unions and campaign groups in the country that take up their cause. Experts have been urging the industry to allow unions, which they say can help to reduce tensions between workers and factory owners.
The industry has also helped develop various professionals who make value-added contributions to manufacturing. Experts point out that Bangladesh needs to give more training in diverse skills so that Bangladeshi factories can expand from producing only basic clothing to high-end textiles.