Made in Bangladesh is a drama about a woman’s struggle to set up a union in a garment factory.
It begins with a co-worker perishing in a workplace fire, obviously taking from real events like the 2012 factory fire disaster in Dhaka. Shimu and her friends feel distraught but helpless. When Shimu is contacted by a local workers’ rights group, she tries to set up a union. But it’s not easy, she needs to get the signatures of 30% of the factory workers, and they have to do so in secret, in fear of management. The whole film follows all the difficulties in just getting to the starting line, just to begin the union to start to fight. From corrupt civil servants, to sexually exploitative managers, to a lack of support at home for fear of the attention it will attract, Shimu and her friends must battle it all.
Made in Bangladesh is a great film, showing ordinary working class women, especially women of colour in a post-colonial-exploitation country, as key agents of their own success in their own stories. This is not a film split into the done-to and the doers, the women are active in solving the issue of their own oppression.
It’s also another great film about the importance of speaking up for your own worth. In one sense, nothing is changed by the end of the film for Shimu, she’s only getting the start of setting up this catalyst for change, but SHE has changed. She goes from feeling powerless, afraid and cowed, to daring, commanding, and insistent on her own rights. This transformation is the real revolution, the thing that those above fear from those below. Because there is a difference in being silenced and remaining silent. It fundamentally changes Shimu to believe in the worth of her own labour, own voice, own self.
Such a satisfying watch.