An accidental visit as part of an ‘Old Dhaka tour’ led photographer Claudio Montesano Casillas to unregistered sweatshops in Keraniganj, Dhaka and exposed the horrific reality of thousands of children in Bangladesh who are forced to work long hours stitching labels into clothes.
The children are crammed into unregistered and small factories to produce clothes for the West on just about 20p a day.
And the grim reality is that unregistered sweatshops like these are not inspected.
These factories not only make clothes for local and Indian market but also supply clothes to well-known and international brands through subcontracts thereby making it all the more difficult for companies to locate where all their clothes are coming from.
Casillas’ photographs have revealed both the lack of safety controls inside Bangladesh’s unregulated factories and the gruelling routine of the children who work there.
The young garment workers who do not get time to go to school are handed out a huge range of jobs ranging from embroidery and sticking on sequins to dyeing fabric and machine clearing.
Due to the extensive workload, these children have no option but to eat, sleep and shower inside the factories or rent rooms next to the factories.
Casillas said: “Inside these factories garment workers work six to six and a half days per week from dawn till far after dusk for a minimum wage. The workers from these factories sleep inside or rent rooms next to these factories.”
“They come from villages to cities seeking for employment and dreaming of a better life.”
An informal factory like this could comprise of 15 sewing machines and are often without emergency exits, fire safety plans or extinguishers and are not subjected to the national fire and building safety norms and assessments.
According to UNICEF, there are about million children aged 10 to 14 working as child labourers in Bangladesh.
Children and adult employees earn as little as £6.50 a month or less than 800 Bangladeshi taka in such unregistered sweatshops. At best, they can expect 1,950 taka (£16).
That is significantly less than the 5,300 taka (£41.80) minimum wage for entry level garment workers set by the government in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which more than 1,100 people died, mostly women.
However, the formal factories have much better working conditions than the informal ones whereby, 60% of workers across formal garment factories are women.
Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second-largest exporters of textiles after China and is the lifeline of Bangladesh’s economy earning about $25 billion in exports a year and employing 4 million workers, mostly women.
It also has a notorious fire safety record. However, according to government records more than 80% of Bangladesh’s garment factories are safe.