We’ve got a situation here where if legal complaints are made about working conditions, the owners and managers of the sweatshops come to agreements with the Ministry of Labour, and they can just carry on as before, getting women here to work very long shifts with no breaks to meet unreasonable targets, causing work-related injuries and illness.
But, if the people who buy the products become aware of the exploitation and working conditions of workers here, that has more impact, they worry more about consumers’ perception of their brand, and we see more response. International solidarity is very important to us here.
CODEMUH has had a working relationship with War on Want for many years, since 2003, and this solidarity is significant and productive. By raising awareness and voices in the UK and Europe we have strengthened the position of working women in these factories and sweatshops, it has strengthened our organisational ability, it has helped us build an active movement of organised labour that is still growing, and it has helped us with all out major achievements in workers’ rights here.
Most of the women who we work with have migrated from the countryside, many of them leave their children at home, and they come here to the north, where the big factories are, to earn a very meagre wage in conditions that are harmful and illegal.
In many cases the women have to produce 500 dozens of pieces of clothing. This amount of production used to take them all week, but now they are required to do it in four days, but this means, with an 11.5 hour shift, that they can’t take any breaks, or they don’t hit the target, and they lose pay. We are seeing lots of Repetitive Strain Injuries, and we have had these and other injuries and illnesses legally recognised as work-induced health problems, this is a big achievement, they used to deny that work caused women harm. We currently have 150 working members who have had work injuries recognised in legal cases and awarded incapacity pensions or benefits. We are still fighting for certain injuries, like lumbar injuries, to be classified as work-related injuries, we have taken cases to appeal courts recently.
We are also fighting against the dismissal of our members who are sacked on the basis of medical diagnoses. We currently have a case of 24 women who have been sacked, and we are demanding their unconditional reintegration to work. We have stopped mass dismissal of workers. We have had work-related injuries and illnesses legally recognised. We’ve worked hard on these fights for workers’ rights, but these are also achievements of international solidarity.