Meet Parul Begum, a 39-year-old garment worker at the Aplus clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, one of countless operations supplying garments for big brand names in the West. This factory makes shirts for men and women for major discount retail chains in Europe and the United States, though the owner declined to say which ones.

Among the 4 million working in Bangladesh’s booming clothing sector, those at Aplus can count themselves lucky. This is considered a “top factory”, meeting government health and safety standards and compliance codes set by buyers. Its workers earn overtime, annual vacations and maternity leave. It has a medical doctor on site.

But despite a salary of $63 a month – 66 percent above the basic industry wage, thanks to her 25 years of experience as a sewing machine operator – Parul can scarcely make ends meet. And every day is a 12-hour slog, because she needs to accumulate overtime to pay her bills.

2013 © Thomson Reuters Foundation

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