Fashion Factories Undercover is the 6th episode of the 3rd season of ITV's Exposure series. The documentary places hidden cameras on two women working in a Bangladeshi garment factory, Olira Fashions. Laboni and Lota, two factory employees were willing to go undercover because they wanted to show the continued violations of basic safety tenants and grim working conditions even after the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, in which more than a 1000 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured. Images of the tragic aftermath - including the now iconic and heartbreaking photo of a couple who passed away holding hands - dominated the headline for days.
Over the course of 50 minutes, Fashion Factories Undercover systematically exposed a number of problems that continue to plague garment industry workers in Bangladesh.
Here's what we learnt:
Big picture - months after the Rana Plaza collapse, there are still factories which continue to flagrantly tout safety regulations.
Particularly worrying to Lota was that a fire escape was padlocked twice over, rendering it inaccessible to the workers. This is particularly egregious given the numerous fires that have claimed hundreds of lives.
Verbal abuse is rampant in Olira Fashions. The floor managers would curse at the young women on the line, sometimes slapping them and hitting them on their backs or legs with fabric roll.
Lota spoke to garment workers who were as young as 12 and 13; in Bangladesh, 14 is the legal minimum age for unemployment and various laws have been passed governing child labour.
Both Olira Fashions and Vase Apparels seem to take huge orders (in one case, 45 000 jeans) which results in them forcing employees to work night shifts in addition to their regular hours.
Both factories featured seem to know that they are not conforming to safety standards . When told that a team of auditors were visiting soon, they ran through an approved list of answers with the workers.
The documentary focuses on Olira Fashions and Vase Suppliers, which are just two of the 3000 plus factories in Bangladesh. How do the other factories fare?
According to Scott Nova of the Workers Right Consortium, brands and retailers had entered into talks to partially fund the renovation of these buildings, thereby making them 'safe factories'. Even though the talks failed, an interesting point is raised. What are the differences between sweatshops and factories?
What kind of agreement was reached and by whom, after the Rana Plaza collapse?
To wrap up...
Overall, the documentary raised more questions than it answered but we reckon that was the whole point. So, where do we go from here? Watch out for updates in The Sweatshop Debate where we'll continue to unpack the complicated questions that surface as we dig deeper into the Bangladeshi garment industry.