Beyond the Label 1 year ago
A photo essay by Claudio Montesano Casillas
On my second day in Bangladesh I accidentally visited an informal factory for the first time. I engaged myself in “tourist tour” in Old Dhaka and I did not know these factories were part of it. The factories I saw did not correspond with my idea of a factory – a shiny well organised place with large scale production. Ever since I have been curious to know more about this underground world and have tried to portray the world beyond the label.
What is the informal garment sector? ‘Informal factories’ are companies not officially registered in Bangladesh producing garments for the local and sometimes the Indian market. These factories also produce garments for well-known and established international brands through subcontracts. There are an estimated 7’000 informal factories across Bangladesh and because there are not registered these factories are not subjected to safety controls. In fact, these factories are not subjected to the nation wide fire and buildings safety assessments. The working conditions and facilities are of much lower quality than most formal export oriented factories. In most of these garment factories there are no labour inspectors and the factories receive much less attention from the international community. Many factories are non-compliant with regards to anti-child labour legislation.
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. Therefore 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…
A room with 15 sewing machines could be considered an informal factory in Bangladesh. In these factories the majority of workers are boys and men. Women cannot commit to the same working hours due to their responsibilities at home and they are not allowed to sleep next to a man who is not a relative. Traveling at night is also dangerous for them.
An informal garment factory located on the outskirts of the center of Dhaka
Young garment workers have fun during their two hours lunch break. Most of boys and men working at the informal production factories come from rural areas.
A garment worker at his working place measures pieces of leather that will be used for jeans’ labels
A young garment worker at his working station. His work consists of stitching labels to blue jeans
The polluted landscape outside the factories located in Keraniganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Unregulated clothing production is the extensive water pollution and leaching of toxic chemicals into Bangladesh waterways
A young worker at her working station removes extra stitches from blue jeans
An old Chinese Zheijang Sendo sewing machine. Nowadays, the price of this machine is around 25 dollars
Shanta (11) works in an informal garment factory since one year. She is originally from the Madaripur District, Bangladesh
A pile of jeans stored in a room inside an informal factory in Bangladesh
Informal factory workers discuss animately about work production at Keraniganj in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Young garment workers at their work station. Due to huge workload young workers are not able to pursue any basic education
A wholesale distributor showroom of men pants produced at an informal factory in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
A wholesale distributor of men’s shirts in Old Dhaka. The wholesale distributors are in charge of selling overstocks directly to the public
Landscape behind the informal garment factories at Keraniganj in Dhaka. This district host hundreds informal factories
Young garment workers having a shower inside their factory. Due to workload they eat, shower and sleep inside these factories
Fashion mannequins outside a shop in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
A young garment worker. The common activities for children at informal factories are: embroidery work, cutting/trimming, cutting thread, printing, making labels/tags/stickers, packaging, machine cleaning, weaving, hand stitching, dyeing, decorative work (such as adding sequins, decorative stones), button stitching, knitting, washing, and button coloring.
A female garment worker at her sewing station. On daily average a worker can sew more than a thousand pieces.
A young garment worker enjoys his lunch break while listening to music
A young garment worker brings black jeans from his factory to a wholesale shop in Old Dhaka.
Among informal factories, the safety standards are very low. Most of the factories do not have emergency exits, fire safety plans or extinguishers
A shy garment worker
An electrical panel board. Most factories are at risk of fire accidents due to poor wiring and electrical safety standards and basic awareness.
A female garment worker stands amidst children clothes. Due to a lack of child care facilities most young children spend their time with their mother at the workplace
A supervisor poses in front of garment workers. The busy period for the informal sector is the period between October and January every year.
Female workers at a New Years celebration in Dhaka. Across formal garment factories in Bangladesh an estimated 60% of workers are women. The working conditions are usually better than the informal factories
Claudio Montesano Casillas is a documentary photographer born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. He established his roots in three separate cultures, Mexican, Italian and Swiss, and he has developed an ability to both recognise and capture the richness of people, cultures and their respective evolution. Currently, he is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. See more at his website, or follow him on Instagram.