Blog: Fair Wear's Lotte in Bangladesh

The rain in Dhaka is unusual for this time of the year, says FWF´s audit supervisor Bablur. It was only two days ago that Bangladesh celebrated the beginning of spring, and now the streets are all muddy. I didn´t know about the rare weather conditions. This is my first time in Bangladesh.  

The trip is a great opportunity to gain insight into FWF´s Preventing Workplace Violence project that helps women workers and their managers to prevent violence and harassment in garment factories by providing trainings and establishing anti-harassment committees. Garment workers reported hitting, shouting and sexually explicit language.

Swearing is a serious problem in Bangladeshi garment factories, I learn. It’s so bad, that workers often don’t want to repeat it. An FWF trainer is willing to share some of the swear words with us. They are extremely offensive and usually sex and family related. It brings up mixed emotions; the language is disgusting but we´re nervously laughing too. I don’t even know if we have comparable words in Dutch, or in English.

Swearing is also discussed in the supervisor trainings. Supervisors shout, because ´otherwise there is no production´, they say. It is often seen as the only way to trigger workers. When the trainers repeat the words, supervisors are confronted with the way they behave. “Supervisors are being yelled at too, by top managers”, trainer Sumi explains. “They also want to be treated in an equal way.”

Dhaka traffic
Next stop is a factory in Gazipur, a three hour ride. Another day in a traffic jam. Every square centimeter of road is immediately occupied by a car, pedestrian, rickshaw or baby taxi. We only drive 20 km per hour. A bus gently hits our car, no one looks up. When we get hit by a bus on our last day though, we have to leave our wrecked car behind. The Dhaka traffic determines the rhythm of the day.

But today we safely arrive at the factory, supplying one of FWF´s member companies, beautifully surrounded by trees. I´m observing a training for an anti-harassment committee. Six months old and they already handled a few cases.  FWF trainer and lawyer Kona patiently explains the, mostly uneducated, workers how to document complaints, investigate them and make sure they get solved effectively.

Family life drawings
On my last day I join a drawing workshop. When workers get challenged to draw their family life, emotions run high. One of the women was eleven years old when she got married. Three years later she got pregnant. When her violent husband left her, she stayed with her seven brothers and sisters, her parents and her two children in the village. She is, after 14 years in a garment factory, still responsible for all expenses.

Since a lot of the workers are illiterate, drawing seems a good way to express themselves. The drawings tell impressive life stories, explain life in the garment factory. Luckily the afternoon is a lot of fun too, with positive and funny stories. After I take the workers’ pictures they take ´revenge´; FWF’s Bangladesh expert Juliette and I pose for at least 15 phone camera´s, and not just once.