The struggles to unionize workers in Bangladesh

David Brancaccio
Marketplace Morning Report

It's just over a year since a clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh, which caused the death of more than 1,000 people.  

The complex tragedy has brought some changes to safety conditions in places that may have manufactured many kinds of affordable clothing Americans buy and wear, but what has gotten less attention is a change in the law that lets employees form a union without the permission of their employer.

Nomita Nath is a labor organizer in Bangladesh on a visit to the U.S. organized by the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington. She started working in a garment factory when she was 12-years-old.

"They used to make us work until 10 o'clock at night. If production wasn't finished, they'd make us work overtime without any overtime pay. There wasn't any clean drinking water. The management used to hit the women for little things -- if they said anything, if they asked any questions," - Nomita Nath 

Pressing for unions is never easy, and it's made tougher still by what Nath describes as a simple tactic -- employers can tell employees to sign a blank piece of paper. And that signature, Nath says, becomes a form of control.   

"By signing the paper, it allows managers to write things on that piece of paper that will hold us guilty. They'll write things like, we've stolen something or we've broken something -- anything can be written on top of our signature."

Nomita Nath is a labor organizer in Bangladesh. She joined Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio with her translator Monna Khan.