Few people learn what working for a nine-year-old feels like. (Most would consider the idea of working for a nine-year-old like the butt of a good SNL sketch.) But a Toronto Star reporter went to Bangladesh, was embedded in a sweatshop and learned nine-year-olds make the most forgiving bosses in the most unforgiving conditions.
Working conditions in Bangladesh garment factories have been scrutinized since an eight-story factory collapsed, killing 1,127 people. There was a brief push for retailers to sign a legally binding agreement to enforce better conditions for workers in the world's second largest clothing exporter, but most American companies declined to participate.
The Star's Raveena Aulakh worked for four days in a small, windowless factory sewing shirts. A cabbie she met on a previous trip told the factory owner "that his wife’s cousin (me) was an Indian woman who had recently moved to Dhaka, knew a few words of Bengali and needed a new start." That she was able to infiltrate a factory was itself a victory: screening incoming employees became common practice after the collapse. But she got the job, and her boss was a nine-year-old named Meem.
The conditions in the factory were not ideal by any means. The factory was two stories, each floor "about half the size of a basketball court" with roughly two dozen sewing machines. There were no windows, and only three ceiling fans cooling workers from the intense heat inside the room.
Meem started working at such a young age because her family needed the financial support. She liked hairclips and glitter, like any nine-year-old girl, when she wasn't sewing or helping the others. As Aulakh struggled to stay sane during her short stint working at the factory, she eventually realized the precocious little girl was covering for her the entire time, inspecting her shoddy work to spare her the wrath of the temperamental floor boss prone to yelling at his workers:
She told me to give her everything I trimmed and not put it in the done pile. I didn’t understand until it dawned on me that I wasn’t any good at my job. I was clumsy and I nipped at least twice. She “checked” so that I didn’t get into any trouble with Ali. She knew I was on trial at the sweatshop and if I didn’t trim the threads well, I would not last long.
The nine-year-old was making sure Aulakh could stay employed. She had no idea the new lady working at the factory was a journalist. She was looking out for a co-worker who, she thought, needed the money the same way her family did. You should read the entire fascinating, infuriating, unbelievable story at the Toronto Star.