Freedom of the Press: Children Making Children’s Clothes

Without the information illuminated by journalists willing to work in the harsh conditions of a textile factory in Bangladesh, I would never know that the T-shirt I bought from a major department store was actually made by a nine-year-old girl who is struggling to help support her parents and younger siblings, in less than favourable conditions for 12 hours a day, every day. Often making less than $38 Canadian a month.

Through my reading, I found two reporters in particular who, I felt, did an excellent job in conveying the details of daily life and daily strife inside the textile factories of Bangladesh:

Meem, 9, supervised reporter Raveena Aulakh as she worked at a garment factory in Dhaka.

Meem, 9, supervised reporter Raveena Aulakh as she worked at a garment factory in Dhaka.

Toronto Star reporter Raveena Aulakh worked undercover in a Bangladesh garment factory for a first-hand look at labourers working conditions. Her ability to blend in as newcomer who is a “relative of a friend of a friend”, enabled her to give us the perspective of a garment maker from the inside. Investigative and undercover journalism in textile factories is a daunting task, to say the least. To find a personal connection that will help you get into a factory without giving you away as a journalist, as well as not giving away anything that may appear as though you are being observant of the conditions around you, is very difficult.

The conditions she observed are less than deplorable, and are, unfortunately, a way of life for mainly women and young children. While there are men who work in this industry, it is mainly dominated by women. Young children are often preferred by company owners according to the Independent Garment Workers’ Union Federation for their complacency, good vision, and nimble fingers. These children feel as though it is not a problem for them not to attend school, or enjoy the daily routine of play. The ‘norm’ is to work when needed under any conditions necessary in order to  have a sustainable life with their family.

Related Article: Little Fingers: Child Labour in the Garment Industry

After reading this portrayal I started to ask myself a series of questions; “Are these the thoughts that run through our heads as we put on our shirts and get ready for the day? This shirt feels wonderful against my skin, I wonder what process this fabric goes through in order to look like this? I wonder who made it, and I would like to thank them for helping me look and feel so good today.”

Raveena Aulakh. Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star / Getty Images

Raveena Aulakh. Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star / Getty Images

In 2013, Raveena Aulakh, a reporter for the Toronto Star went undercover and wrote a powerful story about her 4 day experience working in a clothing sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Where her boss was, stunningly, a 9-year-old girl named Meem.

What types of journalism we may need to understand abuses inside factories? These types of journalism are very difficult to say the least. To find a personal connection that will help you get into a factory without giving you away as a journalist, as well as not giving away anything that may appear as though you are being observant of the conditions around you is not easy.
Holly WIlliams going undercover inside a Bangladesh garment factory

Holly WIlliams going undercover inside a Bangladesh garment factory

A news crew lead by CBS Correspondent Holly Williams posed as buyers to get inside a garment factory in a Bangladesh factory that exports clothing and other garments to U.S. and European retailers where she discovered safety and labor violations.
Read full article here.
Holly Williams of CBS News relayed some perspective in the article informing us of the cautious (some could say, callous) factory owners who are very wary of outsiders. They are said to coach their workers on what to say to visitors so there are no ‘red-flags’ or concerns raised about working conditions, and only prepare the factories for ‘favourable working conditions’ to be met upon inspection.
Blatant disregard for safety of the workers and the building itself is simply disheartening. Is there a way to educate the masses of the industrialized world about these issues on a more practical scale? What can be done about the wilfully blind big corporations of Europe and the U.S.? I only hope that we can somehow communicate and live cohesively as a whole community, making things better for our neighbours, for ourselves, and the world.

Related Article: The Children of the Uzbek Cotton Fields

Again, after learning about these issues I can’t help but ask myself; “Is this what I want for the people in this world?” When I read about issues concerning labour rights and deplorable working conditions, I find my self asking; “Would I be OK with letting the people I care about work in these kinds of conditions?” Then, the overwhelming thought of knowing how many people live this way is naturally unsettling. At what cost is the human race willing to clothe itself?

Can you imagine the entire population of Los Angeles working in garment and textile factories, living in calamitous poverty?

There are 4 million people who are home to only one city out of hundreds who live this way, day in and day out. At what point, and how, do those in power decide to change the regulations concerning the inspections and inspectors who check the boxes to validate; “This is environment has met all safety and health standards with favourable working conditions for all labourers involved.”

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Without the journalists who are willing to explore these conditions in order to share the perspective of the labourers enduring these environments, we would never know the truth. Without this vital information we would be unable to generate the ideas needed in order move forward as a society and as a whole. The goal of this information is to shed light on the truth and to move us forward in a positive way for all, everywhere. When it comes down to the raw nature of life, we all want to live happily. I think we need to ask ourselves, “At what cost are we willing to have the ‘things’ we want? What are willing to sacrifice to full-fill our needs to meet the standard we were raised to enjoy in life? What am I willing to do to make a difference?”

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