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The Hands that Sew your Shirt

There are approximately 8 million “hands” producing clothes for Bangladesh’s garment industry, all too often under the most adverse conditions. Two of these hands belong to Sabina, whose story is told in the documentary “The hands that sew your shirt” produced by CARE Austria with funding from the European Commission.

The story
Sabina is 17 years old and working in one of Dhaka’s garment factories, sewing clothes to be exported to Europe for 10 to 12 hours a day. The documentary accompanies Sabina from her home in one of Dhaka’s slums to work in the factory and to her home village in the countryside.

Like many other young girls, Sabina came to Dhaka to work in the booming garment industry in order to contribute to her family’s income. As one of 1500 female garment workers Sabina is participating in classes and trainings organized by CARE’s “Solidarity and Empowerment through Education, Motivation and Awareness”-project, SEEMA, where she is learning how to read and write and getting informed on her rights as a garment worker. Despite the hardships Sabina is facing in her every-day life, she stays positive: earning her own income contributes to self-confidence and social respect, and saved her from early marriage.

Background: Women in the Garment Industry
Women’s participation in the garment industry has been a significant turning point in the country’s history, marking the increased participation of women in the formal economy and changing women’s mobility and ability to engage in decisions affecting their lives. The potential of the garment industry to continue to provide employment for large numbers of women provides great opportunity, but comes with clearly obvious challenges.

Female workforce faces various hardships
Despite over 3 million people employed in and about 80% of export earnings coming from this sector, there are a number of problems associated with the garment industry. The predominantly female workforce faces various hardships: low wages, irregular payment, forced overtime, poor working conditions and harassment, to name a few. In addition to that, unhygienic environments, substandard water and sanitation facilities and a lack of health care access compromise the health status of female garment workers.

These women are further denied their rights to education, social mobility, and access to resources and services. It is therefore imperative that long-term systematic programs and interventions be designed that ensure such rights, which are in fact enshrined under national legislation (e.g. Bangladesh Labour Act 2006), are actually enforced.

Responsibility of Western buyers
Recent years have seen some improvements, but it is crucial that Western buyers press for decent wages and safe working conditions despite the complex supply chains involved. They can be a valuable ally in the fight to protect workers, but currently aren’t pulling their weight.

The OIKKO project
The OIKKO project (‘unity’ in Bengali language) will contribute to the realization of fundamental rights of workers in the Bangladesh ready-made-garment (RMG) industry. The project empowers female factory workers and strengthens labour right actors, from the grass-roots level up, to join forces for promoting the enforcement of the new labour law from July 2013 and for pursuing further reforms in the sector.