The VICE Channels

    One Look at the Bangladeshi Sweatshop Companies’ Dead Websites Reveals How Hellish They Were

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Women employed at New Wave LTD. Image: IGLHR

    After the eight-story building that housed thousands of Bangladeshi sweatshop workers collapsed, the companies that sold the garments they made to Western retailers were apparently pretty quick to take down their websites. The sites were cached, though, and still easily accessible—and they still offer a striking look at the working conditions on the factory floors.

    The images of the collapsed building, which killed at least 300 people and injured thousands more, are harrowing. The revelation that the women working in it made less than $40 for the privilege is repulsive. But the fact that these company websites broadcast, in plain terms, the devastatingly rigorous work schedule these women were subjected to directly to their clients—which include Primark, Walmart, Libra, and Matalan—makes it clear that those clients were either aware of the substandard conditions or staffed by idiots.

    Here, for instance, is the 'Facilities Existing' section on the website of Ether Tex, a company that says it was supplying clothing to Walmart:

    As you can see above, this sweatshop—and it is most certainly that—churns out 960,000 pieces of clothing a year. With 530 employees, mostly women, and just four production units, that means each person is making 1,811 garments per year. If we imagine they are working five days a week (it's probably actually more like six or seven), then we can conclude that each of these women are making an average of 7 cargo pants, heavy jeans, or swimsuits a day.

    That's insane. We've already heard about the hours—reportedly these women were working thirteen hour days, from 8 AM to 9 PM. But the Western companies who buy sweatshop-made clothes can, as they inevitably will, claim ignorance on just how much the workers were paid, the conditions in the factory, and how long their workdays were.

    But they can't claim ignorance on the miserable, inhuman carpal-tunnel-guaranteeing amount of work being done.

    The company website for New Wave Ltd, which occupied the 6th and 7th floors and 40,000 square feet, paints an even nastier picture. This company sold its wares to European discount clothing stores like Primark and Matalan, and its website describes a hellish exploit-orium.

    The factory churned out 6,000 garments a day, though many were shirts, and perhaps less time-intensive than "heavy jeans" or "cargo pants" that Ether Tex laborers stitched together downstairs. New Wave doesn't list the number of people it employed, but judging from its equipment count—it had 354 sewing machines while Ether Tex had 302—we can assume that the conditions were similar, if not more frantic. New Wave was making 2,100,000 garments per year with only a bit more machinery, after all.

    And here, it lists its "Safety Equipments," which I'm sure is intended to reassure employers that precautions are being taken to prevent health woes in the event of, say, a fire or a collapsing building. Instead, it makes it seem like these poor people were working as army medics in a conflict zone, not clothing makers:

    I mean, Jesus. There were 24 fire extinguishers for two floors. 10 helmets. 11 smoke detectors. And this kills me: three stretchers. Three fucking stretchers. These people are sewing t-shirts. They are not dealing with heavy metals or assembling car parts. They are not mixing volatile chemicals together. They are not dealing with unexploded munitions. The heaviest machinery they are operating are sewing machines. 

    And yet the management anticipates needing stretchers, helmets, and two dozen fire extinguishers. How many helmets are there on your office floor? This list was surely made public to impress upon potential clients that it was a super-safe workplace. But the fact that European and American retailers are demanding this kind of prep to reassure them—instead of say, asking why the people that make shorts for them must be prepared at all times for their colleagues to keel over—is kind of disturbing.

    Any respectable company that spent five minutes looking over these website should have been able to infer with relative ease that these companies were operating fetid factories of human suffering. If they simply took the time to process the stats laid bare online, they would have seen, in no uncertain terms, that they were funding despicable hellholes. But there are hundreds more factories exactly like this one across Bangladesh, driving its workers just as hard, in buildings just as structurally unsound. And all of their websites probably look the same to them.