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1999-08-09
Bangladesh. Wal-Mart's Shirts of Misery

Check the label of that new shirt or pair of pants you just bought at Wal-Mart. Was it made in Bangladesh? Maybe it was made by one of 1,000 young workers at the Beximco plant in the Dhaka Export Processing Zone. According to a new 9 page report by The National Labor Committee, the shirts and pants that are made for Wal-Mart and other retailers at this factory are made by workers who often work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, or an 80 hour work week. They are sometimes forced to work a 24 hour shift straight through the night. They are paid less than one-third of the country's legal overtime rate. Although the official work week in Bangladesh is 48 hours plus a limit of 12 hours overtime, these workers are way over the legal boundary. In 1998, goods shipped from this "export processing zone" rose by 56% to $186 million. Labor is very cheap, and there is a state guarantee of no unions. The south Korean and Japanese often own these factories employing Bangladesh workers. Wal-Mart workers who sew clothes make 20 an hour, says the NLC, even though the official legal wage is 33 an hour. Helpers who work with the sewers only get 9 an hour. These companies working under Wal-Mart contracts give their workers no maternity leave, no health coverage, and even restrict their access to bathrooms. Although Wal-Mart says it has a "code of conduct" for its vendors, none of the workers in Beximco have seen the Code, and none was posted at the workplace. To top it off, Wal-Mart pays no taxes to sew their clothes in the EPZ. Wal-Mart pays nothing in tariffs, even though Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world.

What you can do: The National Labor Committee is asking all of us to contact Wal-Mart and demand that their vendors respect local labor laws around the world, including wage laws in the EPZ. They don't want Wal-Mart to pull out of these factories, for fear that the workers would be left with no employment or source of support. The NLC wants Wal-Mart to publish the names and addresses of the factories that make the Wal-Mart goods we purchase, which the company has thus far refused to do. To contact Wal-Mart, call 501-273-4000, or fax your comments on their labor policies to: 501-273-4894. You can email them at: letters@wal-mart.com. For your own copy of the National Labor Committee study on Wal-Mart sweatshops in Bangladesh, contact the NLC at 212-242-3002, or email them at nlc@nlcnet.org.










 
 
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