Fatima is one of the millions of women who make our clothes. She works in factories that make clothes for Big W, H&M and other international brands.
Fatima has hidden her identity with a headscarf, which isn’t common among garment workers in Bangladesh. She has taken a big risk by speaking to us, and has covered her face to protect herself and family.
“If I was paid a better wage, I would move into a flat and bring my mother with me because now, whenever I am able to eat, I’m always thinking, ‘I am eating but how is my mother right now? I can’t see her. Is she eating as well? Is she getting food?’”
Fatima lives in a cramped, two bedroom apartment with 10 other people – including her landlord.
She says: “I share my room with two other garment workers... three people in one room... We don’t have a bed, I sleep on the floor."
Running water is only available for one hour, three times a day. Fatima fills a cooking pot with water in the morning before work and then stores it in a plastic drum in her room.
After paying rent and keeping a little for herself for food, Fatima sends the rest of her monthly wage to her mother. Fatima’s mother is ill, requiring daily medication and an operation. If the wages for a particular month are relatively low, Fatima chooses to go without food and gives that money to her mother.
Fatima gets sick and feverish from not being able to go to the toilet at work and she worries her body can’t function:
“When I have to work for a long time, my whole body aches, but mainly my knees, my shoulder, my back, my left side. The left side of my back hurts more... because I have to bend to the left for work, that’s why I get more ‘achey’ on the left side.”
Sometimes payments of their monthly wage are late, causing problems paying rent and additional stress. Worse still, the line chiefs regularly skim money from everyone by hiding or lying about the amount they are owed and bullying Fatima and other workers into signing their payslips. Fatima says, “The owner doesn’t know about this, that the line chief keeps our money.”
Another worker at Fatima’s factory told her about an organisation called Karmojibi Nari (KN), which translates as “working women”, a rights-based activist organisation that works alongside Oxfam in Bangladesh. Fatima attended meetings and received training at KN, learning about her entitlements.
She says, “And so I did that, and I got my full wage and holidays... so that I can go to visit my mother.” Fatima also speaks up when she sees younger workers being harassed and scolded, skills she learnt from KN.