Bidi industry jobs myth busted!
Bangladesh’s 100-odd bidi factories employ far fewer people than claimed, according to an investigation that clears the smokescreen created by the industry proponents.
Around 65,000 people work in the 117 factories spread over 31 districts, the findings revealed.
The figures run contrary to claims by industry advocates that more than 2.5 million workers are engaged in over 400 local hand-rolled cigarette industries.
The Bangladesh chapter of the US-based Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids conducted the investigation with the help of journalists in an apparent effort to convince the government to raise taxes on bidis and help workers find alternative jobs, for the sake of public health.
Chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Nasiruddin Ahmed at a global conference on tobacco or health on Mar 23 in Singapore said legislators exerted pressure on him not to raise taxes making a ‘false’ argument about the bidi industry generating over 2.5 million employments.
He had also said bidi industry should be phased out as ‘it is not important for economy and is detrimental to health.’
Tobacco industries fight every year to block tobacco tax increase as they know low tax and cheap tobacco help get young people addicted and make smokers less likely to quit.
Food and disaster management minister Abdur Razzak unveiled the investigation results in the capital and said he wanted increased taxes on all tobacco products.
“A country cannot run by the revenue earned from tobacco,” he said, adding once closed, alternative jobs would be created for bidi workers.
“Their (bidi workers) employment is not a big deal,” he said.
He, however, urged the anti-tobacco campaigners not to be complacent seeing a small number of bidi factories. He said because of rising living standards people were switching from bidis to cigarettes.
“And bidi factory owners are shutting their business.”
He suggested ‘vigorous’ anti-tobacco campaign to stop MPs standing by the tobacco industries.
Taifur Rahman, coordinator of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said they did the study since there was no ‘comprehensive’ information at hand on bidi industries.
“Making most of this (lack of information), they (industry owners) have been pressuring the government not to raise taxes in budget.”
One of the key investigators, Amin Al Rasheed of ABC Radio, said the workers of those factories are mainly women and children because “owners can pay them less and they do not have a voice to ask questions.”
He said journalists worked for three months from Dec 2011 to gather primary information from correspondents of different media outlets about the presence of bidi factories in 64 districts.
In the second stage, correspondents of the 31 districts where the factories are located collected information based on a set of data that constitute the main findings of the mapping. Field investigations followed.
Investigations found one gets Tk 21 to 30 for making 1000 sticks of bidi. But very few of these workers are employed full time since most of the factories do not operate six days a week.
At the end of each day, the workers check with their factories whether they will work the next day.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the daily average wage rate of the bidi workers is Tk 90 for men and Tk 64 for women. It falls way behind the national average for all employment –Tk 133 for male and Tk 96 for female.
The investigation found 48,624 million bidi sticks are rolled every year for 84 brands.
In a documentary screened at the function, 35-year old ‘Rashida’ of Jamalpur district said: “There is no other work as bad as this.”
“We have to work holding our breath. Dust enters to nose and mouth. We don’t like this work. Yet we do it because of poverty.”
There are no estimates of deaths and illnesses due to smoking bidi only, but government estimates 57,000 annual deaths and 382,000 illnesses due to tobacco use.
This bdnews24.com correspondent found during previous visits to bidi factories that the employees work in dusts in a confined room so that outsiders cannot enter in. Child labour is very common in bidi factories.
Physicians working near bidi industries confirmed they got more bidi workers than other patients with respiratory diseases.
A number of children told the investigators that they quit study and take up the job for money.
Sushanta Sinha of ATN News, another key investigator, said they did the study as ‘conscious’ citizens. “We just wanted to get the truth.”
“The findings are intended to help in the policy making process to curb the use of bidi, which the poor mostly consume.”
The investigation found strong political link with the bidi companies.
Of the total 117 factories, 14 are run by political leaders while at least one of them is being operated by an MP.
It also found that 64 percent owners have other businesses, meaning they are not fully dependent on bidi production.
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 43.3 percent Bangladeshi adults use tobacco either in smoke or smokeless form.
World Health Organisation recommends increasing tobacco taxes to deter smokers.