Pregnant workers illegally fired, denied maternity leave pay at Bangladesh factory that sews for The Gap and Old Navy, says report.
A Bangladesh factory that sews garments for The Gap and Old Navy brands routinely forces workers to work over 100 hours a week and they are slapped, shoved and punched, says a damning report.
It also says workers live in penury, earning 20 to 24 cents an hour, and illegal firings are regular.
The report titled “Gap and Old Navy in Bangladesh: cheating the poorest workers in the world” was released Thursday by Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
Charles Kernaghan, director of the institute, said in the report “these abuses have been going on for more than two and a half years.”
But Laura Wilkinson, a spokesperson for Gap Inc., said the factory in question has been audited for working conditions and “allegations (in the report) don’t align with the audit and worker interviews.”
Wilkinson said the company received the report Thursday and is investigating. “If true, these allegations are in direct violation of Gap’s contract with this vendor,” she said.
One consequence could be termination of Gap’s business relationship with the factory, she added.
The 68-page report focuses solely on the Next Collections factory in Ashulia, a thriving suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city. The factory employs 3,750 workers and 70 per cent of its production is for The Gap and Old Navy.
(The Next Collections factory is part of the Ha-Meem Group, Bangladesh’s second largest garment exporter, which owns over 25 factories and employs about 30,000 workers.)
The report contains damning allegations about the treatment of pregnant workers.
According to the report, some pregnant workers are illegally fired and are also denied their legal paid maternity leave; others are made to work even harder.
In one shocking case, pregnant worker Morium Begum lost her baby, the report says. Begum, 20, was exhausted and sick but factory managers forced her to work over 100 hours a week and she lost her baby in the seventh month of pregnancy.
She was working on Old Navy jeans, said the report.
In another case, Taniya Begum was forced to resign and denied maternity leave and benefits. The report says Next Collections threatened her with jail and death because she asked for paid maternity.
This shocking report comes after 1,129 garment factory workers, mostly women, died in the Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, on April 24, 2013.
It is believed to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.
Kernaghan said in almost 30 years of interviewing labour forces in the developing world, he and his colleagues had never seen workers who looked so spent.
“They were exhausted, skinny, dazed and with deep shadows under their bloodshot eyes,” he said.
If Gap Inc. audited working conditions, hours and wages at Next Collections, “we urge Gap to release its audit reports,” Kernaghan said.
Wilkinson said the factory was part of an audit earlier this year. It included off-site interviews with about 50 workers.
She wouldn’t say what exactly was in that audit, except that it did not align with the report released today.
Gap Inc. “cares deeply about health and safety of workers in the supply chain,” said Wilkinson, adding that the company monitors working conditions in factories.
Wilkinson said the company conducts announced and unannounced audits. In 2011, it did 618 unannounced and 590 announced audits. In 2012, there were 563 unannounced and 585 announced ones.
When violations are discovered, the company works with factory management on plans, and then “follow up with meetings and inspections,” she said.
Gap Inc. posted a Social and Environmental responsibility report in 2011/2013 where it acknowledged challenges in Bangladesh factories, including building, fire safety and human rights.
The company sources garments from 70 factories in that country.
Some other allegations:
• Workers are forced to work up to 17-hour shifts, seven days a week.
• There are consequences if workers arrive late or leave early, even if by a minute.
• Managers are handed fake pay slips to pretend Gap is in compliance with legal hours and wages.
• Workers are paid in cash, off the books and cheated of 15 per cent of their overtime hours.
• Workers live in primitive hovels; some can’t even afford beds.
• If helpers make mistakes, they are humiliated and forced to stand in front of the sewing line.
Source: The Star