When you get to the photo, remember she is 16 years old, and the price of life for your clothing in Slave Factories….
December 16, 2013
The evening light is fading as Kala Begum carries her 16-year-old daughter out of their tiny tenement room and down the alley. It’s been another long day of scraping by on handouts to pay for Shumaya’s medical treatment; swelling around her badly injured eye, contorting her young face, has grown much worse since I first met her, several months ago. Kala walks past idling onlookers toward the small pharmacy where she spends their meager savings on medicine in the hope of stemming the girl’s horrendous pain.
For a time, Kala and Shumaya worked side by side in a garment factory here in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hundreds of such factories employ millions of Bangladeshis, and many have escaped extreme poverty. Shumaya, though, has been unable to work or attend school for more than a year because of her poor health, and Kala limited her hours so she could tend to her daughter.
Shumaya started working at age 11. She began at her last employer, Tazreen Fashions Ltd., which towers over the dusty suburb of Nischintapur, Ashulia, just outside Bangladesh’s capital, at 13. It was the only factory in the neighborhood that would take her at such a young age. A typical day meant sewing 90 pieces an hour—T-shirts one day, dresses the next—with no toilet breaks outside of lunch hour; days could be long, sometimes more than 12 hours, six days a week. Tazreen was known for its place on the lower rung of a subcontracting system common in Bangladesh, whereby factories accept orders they can’t complete and farm out the work to other producers, which can be less compliant with recognized safety standards.