The interview was conducted by Fatimah Akhtar and Zareef Karim undergraduate students at BRAC University in the Fall of 2017. Translated from Bengali to English.

*Lily's name was changed to respect anonymity

Interviewer: You'll have to state your name again.

Lily: My name is Lily.

I: How many members are there in your family?

L: There are four.

I: Who are these four?

L: My daughter, my son, my husband and me.

I: How far have you pursued education?

L: Oh, I studied until class three [3rd grade, U.S].

I: Are you from Dhaka?

dhaka india

L: Yes, I've been in Dhaka since I was young.

I: Oh, where do you live?

L: I live've heard of Mohakhali Bokkhopoti staff quarters? I rent a place there.

I: What does your husband do?

L: My husband is in the field of construction.

I: What is your salary?

L: My I tell you my basic one?

I: Yes.

L: It's 4,284BDT ($51 USD) per month

I: Is this salary enough?

L: Not at all, it gets really hard to live on this. My daughter's studying science, and my son is in the third grade. That's a lot of expenses. We need to pool together as much as possible.

L: We pool together as much as possible. But now see, if we get 10,000BDT ($120 USD) that would have been perfect, that would have been really nice. We do get facilities here (AWAJ). To top it all of its worse when we get sick...

L: Like if we get sick, it so happens that I might not be able to come to work or go anywhere, so I'll go see a doctor outside. But Miss Nazma has given us these facilities where we see a doctor every Monday.

I: And where is your factory?

L: It's Taniz Garments in Tejgaon.

I: How come you go there?

L: Well you see the amount my husband makes is not enough to sustain a family of four. There's so many expenses, house rent itself is 4,000BDT ($48 USD), there's also my kids, there tuitions take up over 5,000BDT ($60 USD). So even if my husband makes 15,000BDT ($180 USD) it's not enough. If we carried on like this we'd have to ask people for money, we'd have too much debt. People would look at us badly. It's because these scarcities, and these needs, and the poverty we live in is why I took up the job there 5 years ago.

I: How do you travel? Public transit?

L: No, takes up 35 minutes but the roads are too narrow, so I go on foot

travel by foot

I: On foot? Do you travel alone or in groups?

L: Most of the girls don't live in the area, so they other transports to the factory.

L: Whichever they find most convenient, but also a lot of these women are living in slums. But we live away because we get electricity and water, it's hard to sustain that lifestyle, but you get the security. So we live there.

I: So, What takes up most of your salaries?

L: The rent and school take up most of our salaries.

I: And what about your groceries?

L: The grocery basically involves the basic rice, lentils, and if we get those monthly it'll take up about 4,000 BDT ($48 USD).

I: How long have you worked in the industry? 

L: All the factories I've worked in?

I: Yes.

L: If you consider all the factories.. I've worked in the industry for ten years

I: Where did you work before this?

L: I worked at this other place. My life was basically as a helper and an operator. And then I got married and stopped working. After that I took up this job in which I've been in for 5 or 5 and a half years.

I: Which factory is better, This one or the older one?

L: The former factory was so long ago but considering it wasn't too bad, they had good facilities. By the 10th they would pay for the overtime. They didn't yell at us there.

L: They don't yell at us here either, but there's a lot of pressure at work. I do two people's job at work right now. Last year there were two of us working this job and now it's just me.

I: What? Why?

woemn sewing in factory

L: With the new year, They start getting rid of people every Eid break. Whether it's Ramadan break or Qurbani Eid break. They start firing people in masses. Now they don't even wait for the breaks, they do it anytime. "I don't like you, so I don't want to keep you" they say. They provide them with their dues And they are leaving. Like this we had 100 people in our production line including helper, operator, and now there's 49 of us who work the same line. And the amount that we produced as 100 people is the same amount that we're having to produce as 49 people. You know? There's so much pressure, like we'd sit after lunch, and went to washroom once. It's a lot of pressure to take. But they say, if you want to keep your job this is how it has to be.

I: Why did they start doing this?

L: They get rid of people, like a lot of girls say they won't work anymore So they'll be like is arrogant, and disrespectful. They'll think of that girl as being too politicized, and then based on that they will remove her from her position. And this is how they are continuing to get rid of people by larger numbers.

I: But don't you have unions?

L: Yes but they're not all on the same team. Some back up the bosses, others back up the staff members You know? So there's three different motivations at work. And it's difficult to unify them into having a single motivation. Like say I'll say one thing, you'll say another, and he'll say he has a good relationship with the bosses, and he can't betray them. Fine, and then maybe you'll say how you have a good relationship with the staff members so you get holidays and breaks whenever and all these facilities. So then would you want to associate with us? No. Then it ends up us who takes bears the brunt of it all. It's those of us who have to deal with poverty.

I: What is your everyday routine?

L: My routine is I wake up at 6am, and then I cook the rice. Heat up the curry and other food, then I take a shower. I generally keep the food cooked at night. I tend to do the grocery shopping at night on the way home from work.

I: When do you get home?

L: By the time I get home, it's almost 8pm and when I take the time to grocery shop it's about 8 when I get home. Since going home takes up 35 minutes, and then grocery shopping takes up some time too. So by 10pm or 10:30pm I finish cooking, and checking up on my kids studying. Then by the time I'm done with cooking, they're done with studying. So we eat up, and then go off to bed.

I: When do you start working at the factory?  

tetile factory workers

L: Work at the factory starts at 8, so say if I can get out early I benefit from it. We get the 500 BDT ($5 USD) attendance bonus, and it helps make up for 5 days of grocery shopping. So I go as early as possible, since I'm healthy, and not ill and capable of it, Me being healthy there isn't even a question of being late, that's it really. I haven't been late once in the past 10 months.

I: So consider you get hurt on the job, who takes the responsibility? Do the owners take that?

L: Yes, as in we have doctors there. We have a doctor two nurses, then they treat us. And if they notice it's not something they can properly deal with, they give us a slip to miss work. They'll say "Go and get yourself treated, if the buyers find out then there would be issues. So they let us miss work."

I: Do they allow you maternity leaves?

L: Yes.

I: Have you ever needed one?

L: Yes, I got one while having my son.

I: And is this a paid leave?

L: Yes, yes we do get paid, they're fine on that front.

I: Do the staffs treat you well?

L: Well treatment....the fact that one person has to pick up the toll of two is a harassment in itself, Now at the time most people feel victimized by this. This is it. One person picking up where two people should be working. The production continues to run just fine, so staffs are also busy explaining. With the bosses how even if they're getting rid of people, the production is still running smoothly. There's no gap in production, right? And see, when salaries do increase, it's the staff's salaries that increase. Staffs such the as PM (Production Manager), GM (General Manager), then there's the Foreign Incharge, there's also the supervisor. So it's generally their salaries that increase, whereas with us. Whereas our salaries would increase by only 200BDT or 240BDT ($2USD) by the end of the year. They increase it by everyone's base salary, and if we speak up they tell us that "it's the Government that has made the scale, based on which we are paying you. If you try to make his an issue. There's really no point in it.


bangladesh factory

I: How safe do you feel working there? 

L: Regarding safety, we're doing pretty well. I feel safe. We have toilets, and there's canteen for us to eat, In this way we're doing pretty well, the environment is pretty good. The issue is the pressure of having the brunt of the production on your back, and refusing to increase the salary. And nowadays with the women, Say, I'm refusing to hear them out the Floor Incharge or the PM forces me to sign on some papers, and then if I ever cross them again, they'll call me over. And fire us, and without any benefits as well. This has recently started. They didn't used to do this before, and now if we speak up about this, they taunt us asking if we're lawyers or something. They tell us if we want to work in the company this is what we have to do. This is what we're told by the staff every time we bring up what happen to these women. That's when they start saying these things again. And now we're the ones with lesser powers, if we were to talk too much we get kicked out And around these areas there aren't many garment factories, and the women suffer. And we have a lot of male workers too. But the staffs don’t even say anything to do them. They get all the facilities they need or want. They can even wear shoes inside. They won't yell at them or even tell them off. They basically want the male workers under their thumbs. The ones they know might resist, they've made sure to keep those people on their side. So this is the problem you see, women tend to be more scared. But regardless they've grown a lot stronger, some of them have even begun to resist the tyrannies. Before we would not even dare, but coming here (AWAJ) we've learned to speak up a lot more.

I: That's what I wanted to ask you.

L: Yes, coming here.. Coming to the AWAJ Foundation, we also get a lot of facilities like we get the doctors, meet various people, various programs. We didn't understand before, but coming here, and attending the training programs we've learned how because we work so hard we need to eat healthy food like vegetables and such to remain healthy. Then we don't need to miss work and have them yell at us. Then we'll feel good about ourselves as well. This is the training, I got here. For two years I've done this training here. Listening to them, by eating right, the vegetables and the right kind of fish even I've noticed the difference. I've even noticed that I don't need to skip as I don't get sick as much. Like this month I've gotten the Attendance bonus, now if I had fallen sick then would I have been able to get that bonus? No I wouldn't. And this is it, these are all things I've learned from here

I: But what about the fact that they're forcing people to sign papers? Is AWAJ doing something about that?

L: We've been complaining to Nazma and Khadija (another incharge) about this, and now they're going to take action against that. We told them everything, and they let us know that they will do something about it.

women working in factory

I: So what are things consumers should know about the clothes?

L: The buyers (note: not necessarily consumers) should know that a worker with long years of experience like me, who has been working for 5 and a half years now, the experience I've gained from working here. When I'm fired whoever takes my place, will they be able to provide the same quality of work as I do? No they won't. And this is what our company/factory is refusing to admit, that experienced Should not be getting fired out of the blue. Now I need the buyers to know that getting us kicked out actually hinders the system, the quality of work also drops, right? The owners are turning a blind eye. They don't even know, they don't even want to know. These women who have worked here for 10 to 15 years - they've left because of the way the staff and the company treats these women. So if an experienced worker like me Will the person that comes after me be able to match my work? Will she be able to produce the same with limited experiences? Never.

I: Do girls under 18 work at your factory?

L: No, we don't have that, now women have to enter showing their school certificates. Since this is the law now. Girls have to have passed the 10th grade at least, So like these...there are also Helpers, quality incharge who have university degrees that work there. They don't get jobs anymore, what can they do? Then having no other way, they join the garments industries in the quality section. Basically, they do the work of inspecting the clothes, they check. They basically inspect.


I: Another question would be, If you could work in any other field, what would it be?

L: I think working in garments is good work, there's a lot of restriction, and all the pressure makes it hard, and the salary is low. But now only just because I want to work elsewhere It won't just happen. Like what if I want to work as a government service person? Will they give me a job? No they won't. So I tell myself where I am, with this life, we're doing pretty well. But it would be the nice if the buyers would see that the experienced workers. Are being kicked out like this. If only they would see and tell them that if the experienced workers get kicked out, it hinders the production, causes problems once the experienced people leaves. If they would see these, say something then that would be great, incredible. So this is my request to all, and...yes this.

I: Are you only member in your entire family to work in this industry?

L: I had a paternal uncle, he's left the world now. But yes his wife works in the industry as well. And no one else in my family works in this industry. They work in other places, you know?

I: So this consumer thanks you for all the work you've put in, And asks whether you are able to have savings? 

L: Account? 

I: Yes.

L: I mean barely, whatever we can save from 100BDT to 200BDT ($1 to $2 USD) That's it really, sometimes 300BDT, depending on how much we are able to make in the specific months.

I: You've already answered so many questions that I specifically wanted to ask! Like you've already explained whether you are paid enough in regards to the amount of work that you put in. 

L: Compared to the amount I work it's definitely not enough. Like I've told you, the operator that worked next to me used to earn 7,000BDT ($91 USD) now this person is gone and my salary is still very little despite the fact that even though she has been gone for a year. They didn't hire anyone else to take her place, and now I have to do her job along with mine. Now if the girl was still at work, wouldn't she be working hard? She would. But now I have to do both jobs on my own. I think this is how they are scamming me, and it's become very hard for me to deal.

I: Are you paid according to your place in the production line?

L: They're not paying us at all based on that.

I: But is that how it's supposed to be.

L: They used to do that before like they'd consider a line, give us a month, tell us how much we needed to produce then when he'd succeed they'd happily pay us the amount we earned. But now they don't even do that...

I: So this should be enough, we'll be back...

bangladesh garment security