EYE ON BANGLADESH: At a time when Bangladesh is under intense scrutiny to make reforms in its garment industry in the wake of a building collapse that killed 1,127 people, CBS News has turned up another garment factory making clothes for Wal-Mart, Asics and Wrangler that allegedly blocks its emergency exits, fails to provide an adequate number of fire extinguishers and uses child labor.
In a two-part series that aired on “CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley” Wednesday and Thursday, CBS News correspondent Holly Williams went undercover as a U.S. apparel buyer into the Monde Apparels factory in Dhaka, where 1,400 people work, and documented what appeared to be series safety and labor violations. Her voice dubbed over video shots inside the factory from a hidden video camera, Williams said the factory manager told her they were making one million boxer shorts for Wal-Mart that had been subcontracted, although Monde Apparels had not been approved by Wal-Mart for production. She also said Wrangler shirts and Asics sportswear were being produced there.
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This story first appeared in the May 24, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Despite the rash of recent fires that has killed hundreds of garment workers in recent months, Williams found that nearly all of the 13 fire extinguishers marked on an evacuation map shown to her by the factory owner, Masudul Haq Chowdhury, were missing. Williams also noted that the emergency exit door was blocked by boxes.
Chowdhury was adamant that his company does not allow child labor, but Williams followed some workers home to an overcrowded slum and interviewed a mother and daughter who both work at the factory. The mother said her daughter used a fake birth certificate showing her age as 18 to get employment, but she is really 12 years old.
CBS brought Williams’ findings to Asics, Wrangler and Wal-Mart. Asics said its suppliers don’t do business with Monde Apparels and said it would investigate whether the clothes in the factory were counterfeit. Wal-Mart said it will investigate and if it finds the production was unauthorized or child labor was found, it will bar the factory permanently. Wrangler said Monde Apparels was approved for use in March by an independent labor group, but when CBS News called the company, Wrangler said it had fired the supplier.
Charles Kernaghan, director for the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, said he was shocked by the CBS News series.
“It has literally been a little over 10 days since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, and to think that you can still walk into a factory and see child labor, see missing fire extinguishers, see exits blocked and hear workers are getting cheated of their wages is unbelievable,” Kernaghan said. “This is why it is going to be a heavy lift in Bangladesh. Getting Bangladesh on track for legal rights, transparency and adherence to ILO labor standards is not going to happen overnight.”
“Wal-Mart didn’t know one million garments were being made there? How can you miss one million garments?” Kernaghan asked. “It shows you how broken and corrupt the system is.”
A preview transcript provided to WWD in advance of the broadcast on Thursday night showed Williams visiting two more factories in Bangladesh, one in which she secretly recorded workers not wearing masks spraying toxic chemicals that allegedly cause nerve damage onto jeans to give them a distressed look. In the second factory making children’s clothing, Williams said she found workers who appeared to be children themselves.
She also spoke with Tahmina Akhter Sadia, who said she began working at Rana Plaza when she was 11 years old. Sadia, who survived the building collapse, told Williams she did not want to go into the factory on the morning the complex collapsed because she had seen cracks in the walls. She said a supervisor slapped her in the face and forced her to go inside.