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Asia

Giving a Face to German Discount Clothing

The words “Made in Bangladesh“ are often seen on European clothes. Multi-nationals like to have factories in Bangladesh where wages are low. One textile worker, Bandana Sarker, recently travelled to Germany, to tell customers at discount stores about the high price she pays so they can buy cheaper goods.

Women textile workers work in factories such as these under hard conditions for a low wage

Women textile workers work in factories such as these under hard conditions for a low wage

Every morning at 8 am Bandana Sarker (name changed) arrives for work at a factory in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. She usually stays until at least 7 o’clock at night and sometimes till 10. Up to 400 textile workers work in the same room where it is hot and sticky. The sewing machines make an unbearable racket.

The conditions are tough, says Bandana Sarker. She says that many workers have health problems, and they do not get any proper drinking water. ``Anyway, we don’t have time to drink because we work under huge time pressure. We can’t get the work done if we drink water or go to the toilet,” she says.

Hard working conditions

She has to sew a hundred trouser pockets an hour. Trousers are Bandana Sarker’s domain. In a good month, she gets about 50 euros. After paying the rent and food, she sends what little there is left to her mother who looks after her young son. They live six hours away by car. Bandana has little time and space for her son. She only has a small room in Dhaka that she shares with two other women because it’s cheaper that way.

Bandana is 24. She left school at 14 and became a textile worker. Her husband used to work in the same factory but he died when a gas cylinder exploded. Bandana Sarker’s daily life is marked by too little security, too few breaks, too few wages and few prospects.

Profits for consumers in Germany

Thousands of kilometres away, German consumers profit indirectly from her poor conditions. They can buy cheap clothing and save money. Asked if this is a problem for Bandana Sarker, she replies, ``Yes, it makes me angry at times. But I’m much angrier when I see how cheaply Kik and other discount stores sell the textiles we have made. The companies don’t sacrifice their profits, they just pay us less.”

Bandana Sarker’s trousers are mainly sold at the German discount stores Kik and Lidl. During her trip to Germany, she sees the pieces she sewed in Bangladesh.

Creating awareness among German buyers

She is in Germany for three weeks and has been telling customers about her daily working conditions. “People are very surprised to hear about the conditions that we work in. They are also very curious and interested and they want to do something to change things,” says Bandana.

She gave up her job as a textile worker to give cheap clothing a face. The rule is that anyone who doesn’t show up for work for ten days in a row is fired. When she goes home, she will find her small room again and look for another job. She has no other choice, she says. Textile work is the only thing she knows how to do and she has to support her son and mother.

Bandana Sarker’s trip was organised by Netz Bangladesh -- a German NGO that supports development projects and carries out studies about textile workers’ living conditions.

  • Date 03.02.2009
  • Author DW staff 03/02/09
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsRR
  • Date 03.02.2009
  • Author DW staff 03/02/09
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsRR