Hey Tekstil workers: 230 days of action

Hey Tekstil action in Istanbul

After the unannounced closure of Hey Tekstil's factory in Istanbul, workers organised picket lines in front of the factory, to claim the overdue salaries and severance pay that the company owed them. After months the workers moved their picket to the doorstep of the Istanbul office of fashion trader Li & Fung, which buys for Esprit. The Clean Clothes Campaign spoke to them on the 230th day of their protest, 9 September 2012. “We will be successful only with the support of other people.”

“Since I was fired I have been trying to get what is due to me. I am married and have three kids of 3, 6, and 9 years old. My brothers and I support our parents. I do not know how much longer we can live like this. I will stay until the end, when we get what is our right. But we will be successful only in solidarity and with the support of other people.”
Zeki  – worked for Hey Tekstil for ten years

“Hey Tekstil’s success was made by brands. We are looking to them to protect our human rights. They hang their Codes of Conduct on the factory’s walls, but now we are looking at the street. Esprit is a million dollar company, there is not a place in the world they do not have a store. Esprit can financially afford to pay us. We should question Esprit when its goods are being produced under these conditions. I say to Esprit: “We deserve what we are due, and we manufactured for you!”
Vural  (37) – worked for Hey Tekstil for two years

“For almost 8 months I have been here and I've experienced extraordinary economic hardship. I am surviving on loans, and on the help of my brothers. I just seek what is rightfully due to me.”
Ifran  (34) – worked for Hey Tekstil for eleven years

“I am here until this day because I worked for so many years at Hey Tekstil. I feel like it will be impossible to get what is mine. For the future of my wife and children this is important. I have health problems, I have debts to the bank, to the grocery store. I do not know what to do, it is a tough situation, for my friends too. But I am determined, I must be here. I will continue until I am paid what I am due. I have no other choice. My wife is my biggest supporter. She said if we need to eat just onions and bread at home, we will.”
Murtaza  (46) – worked for Hey Tekstil for nine years

Fire at the Tazreen factory

Tazreen fire victims

A fire broke out on 24th November 2012, killing at least 112 workers and injuring many more after they got trapped in the factory building. The windows of the nine-storey building were blocked with bars to prevent theft. Fire exists were either absent or closed, making it impossible for most workers to escape the building. Many workers jumped to their deaths as they tried to escape the flames, others were burned alive.

In December 2012 the Clean Clothes Campaign visited Bangladesh to develop a joint strategy with Bangladeshi unions and partner organisations, carry out interviews with victims of the fire, and meet with representatives of the Dutch embassy. Below are some quotes from the interviews.

“At 6:40 PM the alarm went off. The manager said ‘nothing has happened, continue your work.’ After a few minutes we saw smoke. I jumped through a window that some workers had broken.” - Nazrin (23), machine operator

“He phoned at 7 PM and told me: ‘I’m on the 3rd floor, but I cannot get out; the gates are locked. Pray for me.’ After that I could not reach him again. I went to the factory and searched everywhere but could not find his body.” - Rashida about her husband Atiqur, who was a quality control inspector at Tazreen

“On the first two days I could not find her, but on the third day I found her dead body in the hospital morgue. I did not recognise her, only her jewellery – her necklace and earrings.” - Humayun about his wife Masuma, who was working as a helper in the factory

“There was a lot of smoke and none of the stairs could be used. I escaped through an exhaust fan hole. There was a bamboo structure outside and I could make it to the house right next to the building.… And, no, I don’t know what happened to my mother, I didn’t see her. It was all dark.” - Raju (18), machine operator

“Yes, we did see outsiders at the factory – both foreigners and Bengalis. We were always informed a day prior to an audit. We had to clean up, make everything look neat and we were told what to say: that we always receive our salary by the 7th of the month, but also about our working hours etcetera. The managers and staff members all gave us instructions.” - Mafusa (19)

“They put my name on a list and told me that I would get some money, but so far I have not received anything.” - Arifa (20), sewing helper, jumped out of a window and needs medical care.

Cambodian workers struggle to eat

Workers buying food in Combodia

“I have to work every day to get the 7 dollars attendance bonus. And if I could, I would work even more to get extra money. Unfortunately, the factory doesn’t allow overtime. They prefer to hire subcontractors. It’s cheaper for them. To make ends meet, I have to borrow money around. Everybody at the factory is in debt. I owe money to all my neighbours in the village…” - Srieng Mouykim

“I can only spend about 1.5 dollars a day on food. That’s just enough to ease hunger, and many of us suffer from a lack of blood sugar. That’s why there are so many faintings in the factory, especially near the washing places. The smell of chemical substances is really strong over there.” - Houn Yi

“I am a quality control officer. Being at the chain end, I have to check whether all the stitches are perfect before sending the clothes to the packaging unit. It's a demanding job, requiring a lot of concentration. But even so, it still remains a poorly paid job. Without overtime I cannot make ends meet.” - Sun Salong

“Before the arrival of the trade union, I only had 2 or 3-month contracts. Now I have a one-year contract and the severance pay has been increased in case my contract is not renewed. I can also take a day off for a medical reason without losing the entire attendance bonus. And the managers don’t shout at me any more when I ask for sick leave.” - Srieng Mouykim

The strike wasn’t an easy period because we weren’t paid. The managers hired fake trade unions to force us to stop the strike. But we held firm. We were so proud to stand up against the managers. That was very important for us, and very useful. After the strike, seniority conditions have been improved and overtime allowance has been increased.” - Houn Yi

“Life is hard being a garment worker. I’m sure that the people in the headquarters don’t know anything about our living conditions. They are not aware of the problems we face in the factory.” - Srieng Mouykim

“Five years ago, I could buy much more food for only one dollar. It was okay. But now, food prices increase all the time. I have to spend more and eat less. It's hard to get healthy food with such a budget.” - Sun Salong

“The local managers control many fake trade unions to keep our wages low. We need help from abroad to tell the buyers that the wages are too low. And that the pressure on our own real union is unbearable.” - Srieng Mouykim