By Shanika Yapa, communications intern, International Labor Rights Forum
When I was fifteen, I thought life couldn’t get any more miserable because I had to sit for my first big government exam. Our daily helper’s daughter was convinced her life couldn’t get any more exciting since she was starting her first job. It was at a garment factory. She was one of the blessed ones who had a pretty decent experience working in a factory in the third world. Regrettably, she’s among the minority of women workers who are that fortunate.
Having grown up in one of the less-privileged countries in the world, the dire poverty many individuals face isn’t surprising. I understand that, for most of them, it’s a choice between starving on the roads or working in sweatshops and making some money. The harsh work environments don’t stop many of them from working in sweatshops since they are left with no other choice.
- 65-79 hour work weeks
- Forced to live in poverty because they’re underpaid
- Prohibited from drinking water during the work shifts
- Little or no breaks during the work day
- Sexual harassment
- Verbal and Physical abuse
- Fired if you’re pregnant or refuse to use birth control
“We would have no complaints if we at least got better pay. We are even ready to accept all kinds of punishment, but we just want fair and better pay – at least the pay that we deserve.”
Anika, Helper at JMS Garments (Bangladesh), paid $20 a month
Anika is simply one of them. These dire work conditions simply get worse for other workers. In late December 2007, Salma, a female worker at SQ Sweaters in Dhaka, became ill. Fearing she would be fired if she stayed home, she continued working. On Sunday, December 31, her condition worsened and she requested permission to leave the night shift. Her line supervisor refused. When Salma continued to worsen, she was eventually taken home around 3am. By then it was too late; Salma died at 4:30 am on Monday morning. Her coworkers were denied leave for the funeral service under the threat of losing their jobs. Salma is simply one among the thousands of individuals whose lives are being consumed by sweatshops.
I don’t expect each of you to spend everyday working for the betterment of labor practices around the world as we do here at the International Labor Rights Forum, but I do assume that everyone out there does care, some of you are quite aware of it, others not so much. The Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide, produced annually by the ILRF and SweatFree Communities is one way in which you can help fight for better working conditions. The retailers in the guide have been approved based on their labor practices and are companies that do care about their workers’ well being.
I’ve pledged to buy one thing from the guide this year, as my contribution towards this cause. It’s a pledge I intend to carry out each year as a part of my role in making the world a better place. What do you plan on doing? Write a comment and share with us what you’ll be doing to support Anika, Salma and hundreds of thousands of women like them around the world.