(First published in Norwegian 22 May 2008)
By Pia A. Gaarder
Mohammad Mizanur Rahman is the general manager of the company Mizan Hatim Engineering, which has been rejected as supplier of antenna towers for Telenor in Bangladesh. While Telenor, in collaboration with Det Norske Veritas, is in the process of preparing a program for improving the conditions at the four other subcontractors, one of the largest contractors risks going bankrupt.
Mizan Hatim Engineering is part of the Mizan Group and is one of the oldest and largest suppliers of antenna towers to Telenor’s 62%-owned subsidiary Grameenphone in Bangladesh. Mizan Hatim has collaborated with Grameenphone since 1997, and, according to the factory management, they have supplied altogether more than 1400 antenna towers to Grameenphone.
"Grameenphone is definitely our largest customer and receives 70% of our production. If the contract is broken now, we have no other customers to supply. That will lead to 500 persons becoming unemployed. For us, that is very, very serious," Mohammed Mizanur Rahman told Norwatch on the telephone from Bangladesh. Norwatch had called him to ascertain why it is said that Mizan Hatim resists improving conditions at the factory.
Telenor’s Vice President Communications, Pål Kvalheim, recently told Norwatch that the reason for the breach with precisely Mizan Hatim is not that the conditions are worse at this factory than at the other subcontractors.
The problem is supposed to be that the factory management has not shown the necessary willingness to improve conditions at the factory, both at the inspection in April and in the answer to Telenor’s formal legal letter, a so-called "show cause notice", which is much used in Bangladesh and in which the contract partner is asked to establish as probable that it is living up to the terms of contract.
Norwatch wanted to hear Mizan Hatim’s version, because this is a question of a subcontractor who is entirely dependent on a few customers. It is Norwatch’s experience that this type of subcontractor in a developing country is very responsive to demands from its Western customers and that it in any case very seldom openly and directly refuses to introduce improvements.
Does Not Understand the Breach
When faced with Telenor’s explanation of the breach, Rahman said that he does not comprehend the description.
"I don’t understand this. Since the filming inside the factory 7 months ago, we have already introduced several improvement measures, with regard to both the galvanisation tanks and the use of helmets and protective equipment. I invite everyone to come and see for themselves and hope that he who made the film returns to see all the changes. But such things take time; surely they can understand that. We are working in Bangladesh. All we ask is that Telenor and Grameenphone give us time and another chance to improve further," Mizanur Rahman said.
"But what happened – what kind of attitude have you had with regard to Telenor and Grameenphone lately that has made them believe that you have not shown willingness to improve?"
"I do not know."
"Did you have a disagreement with Telenor or Grameenphone’s inspectors in April?"
"The only thing that has happened is that we not long ago complained that an order went to Brothers and not to us. We had the best price, and our products also have a high quality. I have repeatedly asked them why we did not get that order. That is the only disagreement we have had with Grameenphone," Rahman said.