Textiles are the most important export sector of Bangladesh's economy. Trousers, hoodies, t-shirts and so on are produced by Bangladeshi firms and then exported to Europe or America, where they are sold by some of the world's most important brands at steep mark-ups. The textile sector is also plagued by safety problems and labor issues, but more on that later.
One large group of companies in this sector is Dragon Group. From the eponymous Dragon Tower in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the group exports sweaters and socks to international customers, which have included Walmart and Lidl. In fact, the group "is the pioneer of Bangladesh's sweater industry" and "directly responsible for the establishment of the sweater industry in Bangladesh"; it "is among the world's largest sweater suppliers and is the largest sweater industry in south and southeast Asia."
Over the years, some of these sentences were cut from the article. It was also marked as missing references. An article for Dragon Sweater, one of Dragon Group's subsidiaries, was changed into a redirect – Mqsobhan had posted it with the same contents as the Dragon Group article. In December 2015, Mqsobhan returned, adding that the machinery of Dragon Group "produces most supple and excellent yarns and the quality is among the best in South and South East Asia", and that the Group's chairman, father of Mostafa Quamrus Sobhan, was "widely known as the Father of Bangladesh's sweater industry".
Just over a year later, some of this promotional material was again cut from the article. It was then nominated for deletion in 2018 – "Only negative sources", according to the nominator. (The nominator, , was later blocked as a sockpuppet in an unrelated case). But other editors involved in that discussion argued that there were enough sources to show notability and that negative coverage was not a reason for deletion. In the end, the article was kept. By September of this year, the tectonic-plate-paced push-and-pull had resulted in an article a few lines long, still lacking references and structure.
That was the state of the article when I first read it. I proceeded to add headers for organisation and history, added about twenty links to sources (which were published in Bangladesh's most noteworthy newspapers and therefore indeed not very hard to find) and, most importantly from the aesthetic point of view, added an infobox. That infobox included a list of Dragon Group subsidiaries and some of the key people, again including the chairman and his son, the managing director Mostafa Quamrus Sobhan. I also filed a conflict of interest notice regarding Mqsobhan, noting the suspiciously similar name and editing behaviour.
However, since the editor at that point hadn't edited in four years and didn't reply to my notification, no action was taken. But Mqsobhan was not gone for good. On December 3, an anonymous editor with an IP address from Dhaka, Bangladesh deleted most of the article, but was immediately reverted. A new account, , was then created and deleted the same parts of the article, three times, only to be reverted three times. And then, after about three and a half hours of edit warring, the Mqsobhan account returned from its four-year slumber and deleted the same parts of the article, again. The reason: "False information in the history section which are travestry of facts" that had been "edited by a miscreant who is trying to ransom money from the editor by posting and editing false claims." The account also proceeded to add some new links to the article in what an edit note described as "quakity news".
When the new Mqs2020 account was asked on its talk page whether there were any relations to the Mqsobhan account or to Dragon Group, the answer came from Mqsobhan: "Sorry no connection with mqs2020 or this company." Both accounts were indefinitely blocked as confirmed sockpuppets a few hours later.
The sockpuppeting block was not the end of the story. Five days afterwards, two new anonymous editors, both with IP addresses from Dhaka, again edited the article. One of the IP accounts modified a citation in the last paragraph of the history section, where a link to news website "bdnews24.com" was changed to "bdnew.24com", making it unusable. The linked source dealt with the firing of around 500 Dragon Group workers earlier this year. The Group says they were laid off due to COVID-19; the workers say they were fired for organising to demand unpaid wages.
The Mqsobhan account had already remarked on the linked article during its edits on December 3: "The article also falsely claims that there r disputes with workers but Dragon Group and Dragon sweater are not related entities." In a later reply to an email from The Signpost, the person behind both the Mqsobhan and Mqs2020 accounts said that the issues with Dragon Sweater workers had been resolved. They also said that Dragon Group was not a company, that it did not own Dragon Sweater, and demanded anonymity. The websites of Dragon Sweater and Dragon Sweater and Spinning clearly state that both are a part of Dragon Group.
"It is reprehensible that the owners of Dragon Group have engaged in such biased propaganda mongering against the workers movement on such a widely read and circulated platform as Wikipedia", a spokesperson for the Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Centre (GWTUC), the union representing the fired workers, told The Signpost. "Once again Dragon Group has engaged in a campaign of misinformation against the ongoing labor struggles. The deletion of information must be seen in the context of pulling of local news articles related to the movement, and propaganda against international solidarity movements."
The other of the two IP accounts that edited the Dragon Group article concentrated on another part of the article: A mention of a 2015 inspection that had found "cables directly laid on floors without proper safety, insufficient exit capacity through exit doors and the absence of sprinklers" at Dragon Sweater was changed into one that had found "cables directly laid on floors without proper safety, sufficient exit capacity through exit doors and the installation of sprinklers" – without changing the source.
There is a history of major fires in Bangladesh's garment factories. The most notable was in 2012, when a Dhaka factory burned down, killing at least 117. The suspected cause were exposed wires, compounded by a lack of emergency exits. The inspection that found the exposed cables and others was done by the Bangladesh Accord, an eponymous organization formed by an agreement signed by Bangladeshi trade unions and international companies following the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, in which 1,134 people lost their lives. And the 2015 inspection was not the only time they reported structural flaws in Dragon Group factories.
In September 2018, an Accord inspection found cracks on a Dragon Sweater factory ground floor column. One year later, the column had only been retrofitted up to the third of the required seven floors. Since then, Dragon Group has asked seven times for an extension to complete the work. While the Accord has refused each time to delay the deadline, verification that the required repairs have been completed is still reported as pending in December 2020. According to Accord reports, sprinkler systems have also not been fully installed and there are still issues with unprotected wiring. Dragon Group's deletion of the Accord inspection was in line with a repeated lack of enthusiasm on matters of working conditions and labor rights, the GWTUC spokesperson told The Signpost. "Labor violations are abundant over the years in the factories, and the pandemic has brought to the fore numerous health and social violations too."
The whole case was not surprising to Christie Miedema, who works with the Clean Clothes Campaign. According to her, the garment market is competitive, and brands and retailers hold the power to dictate terms to factories. Therefore, it would make sense for factories to try to influence the opinions of these international companies, for example through Wikipedia. "We have noticed in other instances, for example our own reporting, that some factory owners are very much on top of the information circulating about their factories and that they care a lot about their image", she told The Signpost.
The Dragon Group article has now been semi-protected until January 14. In the end, our response to the manipulated article looks pretty good. The first time around, it took more than a year until some of Mqsobhan's claims were marked as unsourced. By the same time in 2015/16, most of the added promotional material was already deleted; and in 2020, Mqsobhan et al were blocked after just a few hours. The article is still incomplete, especially for such a noteworthy company – but then again, it is a company in Bangladesh, one of the areas suffering most from a systemic lack of attention on the English Wikipedia.
The story also shows the potential relevance of our articles for real people, though. Miedema said she did not know on what information international companies based their decisions, but that having fewer controversies available through Google was of course in favor of a factory. But these "controversies" are not immaterial: exposed wires, lacking sprinklers and cracked columns have the potential to do real harm to many people. The deletion of these issues from a company's article in order to allow that company to act as if these issues did not exist can not be permitted.
That leads me to one thing that could probably be improved: The only version of the article in another language is in Bengali, which looks to be a translation of a 2018 version of the English article. That version still has much of the promotional material inserted by Mqsobhan in it. Since Dragon Group is comprised of Bangladeshi companies, it would probably be good for it to have an extensive Bengali article.