Bangladeshi factory workers locked in on 19-hour shifts

BBC Panorama conducted secret filming in Bangladesh

Related Stories

It's the middle of the night and I am lying on the floor of a van in the sweltering back streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

I'm outside a factory making clothes for a western supermarket.

I can see dozens of workers inside. They've been in there since 07:00.

We've been told this factory - Ha Meem Sportswear - works incredible hours; we're hiding in the shadows to get the proof.

There's a guard sitting in front of the main gate. He hasn't spotted us.

He's about to do something shockingly dangerous.

At 01.15 - with workers still busy inside - he locks the main factory gate and wanders away.

Worker Four million people work in Bangladesh's garment industry

This place had a fire a few weeks ago and they're commonplace in the industry. If anything goes wrong tonight, the workers are trapped inside.

The shift finally ends at 02.30. That's a nineteen and a half hour day.

One worker agrees to talk. He earned about £2 for the shift and he's exhausted. He has to be back at work again for 07:00.

He says: "My feelings are bad and my health is too. In the last two weeks, approximately, it has been like this for eight nights."

Two days later, I return to Ha Meem Sportswear. I am going undercover as a buyer from a fake British clothing company.

I want to hear what the factory owners say about shifts.

We are shown around. The factory is old and cramped. One woman is working under a table.

The managers show us the order they're working on: 150,000 pairs of jeans and dungarees for the discount supermarket Lidl.

Start Quote

The factory owners, they keep two different books.....These retailers' so-called audits really don't work”

End Quote Kalpona Akter Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity

I ask about working hours and I'm assured the factory closes at 17:30.

I ask about whether gates are ever locked: they say they are always open.

It's clear the buyer is told what he wants to hear.

They even provided timesheets for the night I watched the factory. They say the shift ended at 17:30.

The paperwork looks convincing. If I hadn't seen it myself, I would never know that workers were being forced to work such long days.

Ha Meem Sportswear is far from the only clothing manufacturer pulling this trick.

Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, says many factories hide the truth about working hours from Western retailers.

"The factory owners, they keep two different books. So one they show to the buyers, the other they show to the worker. These retailers' so-called audits really don't work."

'Concerning' findings

Codes of conduct demanded by Western retailers to improve conditions are worthless if double books mean there's no way of monitoring worker hours.

Lidl said our findings were "concerning" and showed how important it was to improve conditions in Bangladesh.

"Change, however, takes time and constitutes not only a challenge for Lidl but for all active companies in the retail industry."

The supermarket said it had invested more than £6m to improve the living and working conditions in Bangladesh.

Ha Meem Sportswear denied that workers were forced to work 19-hour shifts or that they were locked inside. It said there was a second gate at the factory that was open and that there hadn't been a fire, just "some smoke".

The company said our allegations about timesheets were "false and baseless" and that it worked legally and "does not deprive workers of their rights".

I went to other factories where British retailers face criticism.

Richard Bilton Richard Bilton visited various factories in Bangladesh.

Tazreen Fashions is on the outskirts of Dhaka.

It's a burnt-out shell. The metal bars on the windows are still twisted and warped - melted by the fire that swept through the factory last November killing more than 100 workers.

I met Mohammad Abdul Jabbar who lost his wife and sister-in-law. He couldn't tell me his story without crying: "The day she passed away I talked to her at lunch. I had a long chat with her. But after a couple of hours when I came back I saw she is no more. I was watching the fire blazing with my own eyes, but there was no way to save her."

But a UK company is being accused of not paying compensation to the families of the dead.

We were shown photos of boxes of Edinburgh Woollen Mill clothes taken inside Tazreen Fashion following the fire last November.

The company says that rejected clothes and sealed samples were stored at Tazreen without its knowledge or prior approval.

So we dug deeper. We were handed documents which appear to show that Edinburgh Woollen Mill clothes were manufactured at Tazreen.

They include specific product codes and have details of Edinburgh Woollen Mill T-shirts and polo shirts indicating they were being made and inspected inside the factory.

The product codes on the documents match the product codes for clothing currently on sale in the company's shops.

We also spoke to former Tazreen workers who said they had been working on Edinburgh Woollen Mill products for months before the fire.

But the company strongly objected to those claims. It says the paperwork was "inaccurate or fabricated" and that documents and clothes that had been stored at the factory were scattered around after the fire to imply that Edinburgh Woollen Mill products were made there.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill still denies its clothes were made at the factory, but now says it has offered financial assistance.

In Bangladesh I saw an industry that was transforming the nation - providing money and jobs for millions.

The majority of factories are safe and modern - but hundreds of thousands still work in dangerous and illegal conditions to provide clothing for Western High Streets.

You can watch Panorama - Dying for a Bargain on BBC1 at 20:30 on Monday 23 September.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    JACKSON HOLE 11:25: BBC World News
    Justin Urquhart Stewart

    Central bankers are very wary of taking any precipitative action that might endanger the economic recovery, analyst Justin Urquhart Stewart - sporting a particularly fine bow tie and braces combination - tells World Business Report. All eyes are on the gathering of central bankers at Jackson Hole to see if they give any clues as to when rates might rise.

     
  2.  
    SAT NAV 11:10:
    Galileo

    With the planned launch of two satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from French Guiana later this month, Europe is pushing ahead with its own satellite navigation system, known as Galileo. How will it change our lives? A fascinating insight here from BBC reporters Tim Bowler and Matthew Wall.

     
  3.  
    Via Email Ilya Spivak Currency Strategist at DailyFX

    "A lull in fundamental event risk in Asia and Europe has left currency markets rudderless, with investors looking ahead to the Kansas City Federal Reserve Economic Symposium. A gathering of so many policy heavy-hitters in one place all but guarantees that someone will invariably say something market-moving at some point before the affair is through. Needless to say, traders will be all ears."

     
  4.  
    HOUSE PRICES 10:41:
    Houses

    Asking prices for homes across Wales and parts of the North of England are still significantly lower than before the financial crisis, according to property website Rightmove. Prices in County Durham are still more than 13% below levels seen at the pre-crisis peak of May 2008. No prizes for guessing that the biggest price increase in the period was seen in central London - a rise of 41.9%

     
  5.  
    SCOTTISH VOTE 10:29:
    Douglas Flint

    A vote in favour of Scottish independence could lead to "capital flight" from the country, HSBC chairman Douglas Flint has told the Daily Telegraph. He said this could leave Scotland's financial system in a "parlous state". Writing in the paper, Mr Flint says the sterling currency union has been an "anchor of financial stability" for Scotland.

     
  6.  
    AGA RESULTS 10:16:
    aga

    Aga, the oven maker, has said revenues for the first half of the year were up 3.3% to £123.5m. Operating profits were up 60% to £2.4m. "Our markets have picked up but remain inconsistent and variable. Uncertainties around mortgage availability and interest rates are a contributing factor," it said.

     
  7.  
    MARKET UPDATE 10:03:

    Shares in Vodafone have risen 0.8% this morning following a report that it could be a bid target for US telecoms firm AT&T. AstraZeneca shares are up a further 0.7% so far today. Shares in Astra jumped 3% yesterday on speculation that US rival Pfizer could be preparing another bid for the pharmaceutical firm, following its failed takeover attempt earlier this year.

     
  8.  
    ADVERTISING 09:49: BBC Radio 4

    Kate Robertson, co-global president and UK chairman of Havas Worldwide - one of the world's largest marketing communications agencies, was the Friday boss on the Today programme. She says her industry is a barometer of economic conditions - in 2009 its UK business saw revenues drop 9% from the year before, but this year UK revenues are up about 12% so far.

     
  9.  
    YELLEN SPEECH 09:34: BBC Radio 4
    Janet Yellen

    All eyes will be on US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen later when she addresses a gathering of central bankers and other policymakers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Analysts will be studying the speech for clues as to when the US might raise rates. James Bevan at CCLA Investment Management tells Today that she wants to see wage inflation picking up before taking action.

     
  10.  
    LONDON STOCK EXCHANGE 09:19:

    In addition to setting out plans for a rights issue, the London Stock Exchange has also announced a big rise in quarterly profits following a "resurgence in the IPO market". The surge in the number of firms floating shares on the market helped to push pre-tax profits for the three months to June to £83.6m, up 40% from a year earlier.

     
  11.  
    AIRPORT SURVEY 09:05: BBC Breakfast
    BBC Breakfast

    Some of Britain's biggest and busiest airports have been named as the worst for customer satisfaction by the consumer group Which?. Smaller airports did much better, including Doncaster Sheffield airport, where Dominic Laurie is for BBC Breakfast. Aviation analyst Laurie Price says smaller airports have a great opportunity but are hard pressed to compete with bigger airports which have the greater volume of flights.

     
  12.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:50:

    European stocks are largely up before a key speech from US Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen. She is due to speak at a gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as investors continue to speculate on the direction of US interest rates.

    • London's benchmark FTSE 100 index rose 0.04% to 6,780.08 points
    • Frankfurt's Dax gained 0.12% to 9,390.29
    • The CAC 40 index in Paris fell 0.04% to 4,291.06
     
  13.  
    EDF ENERGY 08:36:
    Gas rings

    "We recognise that for a period of time the service to our customers was not up to the standards they deserve," says Beatrice Bigois from EDF Energy following this morning's announcement from Ofgem that it will pay out £3m. "We apologise to those customers who were impacted during this period. We have co-operated fully with Ofgem and have taken this matter very seriously."

     
  14.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:17:

    After nine consecutive days of gains, Japan's Nikkei share index has closed lower. The benchmark index ended the day down 47.01 points at 15,539.19. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng is up 104.96 points at 25,099.06.

     
  15.  
    CO-OP BANK RESULTS 08:08: Radio 5 live

    Chris Wheeler, a banking analyst at Mediobanca, is on 5 live talking about the Co-op Bank results. He says "there are signs of progress" but still "problems they have to deal with," including a drop in deposits. A reduction in money set aside for bad debts "flattered" the profit figures, he said.

     
  16.  
    BANK OF AMERICA 08:01: Radio 5 live

    Bank of America can easily afford the record $16.7bn (£10bn) settlement with US authorities for misleading investors about the quality of loans it sold, US investment expert George Conboy tells Radio 5 live. He says the bank is likely to make $10-15bn over the next 12 months.

     
  17.  
    CO-OP BANK RESULTS 07:54:

    An offer of shares to the public via a stock market listing is "logistically unlikely" before the end of 2014, the Co-op Bank says. It is setting up a committee to work out when it will do that. The Prudential Regulation Authority "has indicated it would be concerned if an IPO were to distract focus from the primary goal of delivering the Bank's Turnaround Plan," it said.

     
  18.  
    ARGENTINA DEBT 07:46: BBC Radio 4

    Argentina risks becoming an "international financial pariah" again over its latest debt row, James Bevan, chief investment officer at CCLA Investment Management tells the Today programme. "The problem is that investors won't trust them, [so] they won't provide money," he says.

     
  19.  
     
  20.  
    LSE RIGHTS ISSUE 07:35:
    LSE sign

    The London Stock Exchange has said it plans to raise £938m through a rights issue. The money is to be used to part-fund the acquisition of Frank Russell Company. The LSE announced in June it was buying the US asset manager for $2.7bn (£1.6bn).

     
  21.  
    PPI SPENDING 07:25: Radio 5 live

    Consumers have about £23bn of payment protection insurance redress from banks, says James Bevan, Chief Investment Officer at CCLA Investment Management on Wake Up to Money. When that dries up, it may have an effect on spending, he says.

     
  22.  
    EDF ENERGY PENALTY 07:15:

    Ofgem said it found that between May 2011 and January 2012, "EDF Energy did not have appropriate procedures in place to properly receive, record and process all customers' complaints in accordance with complaints handling rules". However, it adds EDF took action quickly to rectify the problems. It also says EDF "has acknowledged that their customers were caused significant disruption" and has apologised.

     
  23.  
    CO-OP BANK RESULTS 07:09:
    bank

    Co-operative Bank has reported a loss of £75.8m for the six months to the end of June. That compares with a loss of £845m the year earlier. The bank says it has cut staff numbers by 21% from a year earlier to 5,860.

     
  24.  
    EDF ENERGY PENALTY Breaking News
    EDF bill

    EDF Energy is to pay £3m after an investigation by energy regulator Ofgem found that the company breached complaint-handling rules. The company will pay the money "to benefit vulnerable customers", Ofgem says.

     
  25.  
    BANK OF AMERICA 06:55: BBC Radio 4

    Chris Wheeler, an analyst at Mediobanca, has been discussing Bank of America's massive $16.7bn settlement with US authorities. He told the Today programme that while banks were at fault, investors were also "in a hurry" at the time, and failed to carry out proper credit analysis of what they were buying.

     
  26.  
    EUROZONE 06:44: Radio 5 live
    ECB headquarters

    James Bevan is chief investment officer at CCLA Investment Management and he's on Wake Up to Money talking about the eurozone's performance. "Interest rates are so low" in some of the countries that when you factor in the risk of investing the rates are negative, he says. Sustainable growth in the UK hasn't yet been seen either, he says. with house price growth and PPI repayments from banks driving consumer spending.

     
  27.  
    GAP IN INDIA 06:30:
    Gap logo

    US clothing store Gap is bringing its brand to India, aiming to open 40 outlets. It will launch its first two stores there early next year in Mumbai and the capital Delhi - India's biggest and busiest cities.

     
  28.  
    BANK OF AMERICA 06:20: Radio 5 live
    Bank of America

    Chris Orndorff, a fund manager at Western Asset Management is on Wake Up to Money talking about Bank of America's record $16.7bn settlement. The penalty dates back to the behaviour of a company it purchased, Countrywide. "The timing of the Countrywide purchase has to be one of the worst in history," he says. The fine wipes out the cumulative net income of the bank for the last three years. The bank is very safe though, he says.

     
  29.  
    ARGENTINA DEBT 06:06:

    Argentina's plan to exit its debt default by asking investors holding defaulted bonds to swap them for new locally issued debt has been ruled "illegal" by a US court. New York Judge Thomas Griesa said the plan was "lawless". Argentina was trying to get around an earlier court ruling banning it from paying interest to investors who had accepted restructured bonds.

     
  30.  
    OIL PRICE 06:00: Radio 5 live
    Oil barrels

    After rising sharply in June, oil prices have now slipped back to 14-month lows. Amrita Sen from Energy Aspects tells Wake Up to Money. She says that "the initial price rise was on the back of the fears should any disruptions come at peak demand". However, despite geopolitical risks, supply has remained undisrupted while demand has fallen.

     
  31.  
    06:00: Nick Edser, Business reporter

    Good morning. Get in touch with us via email: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness.

     
  32.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe, Business Reporter

    Hello! We'll be bringing you all the latest business news, data and analysis. Stay with us.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A bird of prey in a Tokyo animal cafeThe Travel Show Watch

    From cats to rabbits and birds of prey – Tokyo’s flourishing animal cafe scene

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.