Bahrain, MANAMA, 28 March 2005
Five hundred Asian workers of a Bahraini garment
factory rioted on Saturday night damaging machinery
and factory premises after a fellow worker committed
Human rights activists expressed concern over the
incident at MRS Fashions, which produces one of JC
Penny brands, and called for a thorough investigation
into a number of suicides at the factory in the past.
Madhu Babu, 28, was found hanging from the ceiling
fan in an isolation room on the company
premises. It was not clear why Babu, who is from Chittoor
district in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh,
had committed suicide. Babu, who is not married, arrived
in Bahrain eight months ago to work as a line operator
in the factory.
His death sparked a riot among workers who went on
a rampage for almost two hours and prevented police
from removing his body. Workers blocked the path to
Babus room thus hampering the efforts of medical
crews and police. It was not until riot police stepped
in that the workers ended their protest and allowed
the police to remove the body.
The workers, mainly from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,
branded the room where Babus body was found
as a torture room. They claimed that workers
were kept there as punishment for failing to meet
target goals on production lines. They also claimed
that two other workers had committed suicide in the
past, another died of heart attack and five others
went insane as a result of the harsh work conditions
that require them to work more than 12-hour shifts
We get 37 Bahraini dinars ($98) as salary and
if we meet production targets we receive up to 49
dinars ($130), one worker said.
The workers also claimed physical abuse by floor
managers and said they were not getting proper food
or medical care.
Nabeel Rajab, vice president of the now dissolved
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), expressed
concern over the incident. Not enough is being
done to investigate the suicides by foreign workers
here, he said from the scene. Rajab had intervened
to calm the situation but without success.
The companys general manager, Harinder Lamba,
dismissed the claims of mistreatment as untrue. Babu
had chicken pox that is why he was isolated,
he said. We are saddened over his death and
his family will be properly compensated.
We are one of the model factories here in Bahrain
and the Ministry of Industry has just nominated us
for the prime ministers 2004 Industry Excellence
Award, he said.
MRS Fashions was set up by a group of non-resident
Indians (NRIs) based in Hong Kong and run by Indian
businessman Sanju Mahthni, in 2000.
The factory produces trousers for the JC Penny house
brand St. Johns Bay which is marketed in the
US and Europe. It has a turnover of $12 million.