Imagine…

3 03 2008

We all realise the importance of wages, whether we have a 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday job, a part-time job or know someone that works to provide for us. Not only does the money that people gain help to provide a roof over their heads, electricity, heating and food, but for many, wages also enables one to have entertainment and to splash out on the latest ‘I want this’ consumer goods.

Yet, imagine a world where none of this was possible. Imagine a world where 80 hours of work per week is the norm and the cost of living widely surpasses the wages that you receive per month. This isn’t the storyline of some fictious novel, it is real life for many that work to provide the clothes that you and I wear in Western society.

From reading War on Want’s Let’s Clean Up Fashion: 2007 Update you will not only come to realise how little fashion brands in the United Kingdom are doing in order to support their employees working in their supply chains, but also how you as a consumer help to fuel the high-levels of poverty, mass starvation and exploitation, merely from purchasing the clothes from such retailers.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23.3, states: “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection” and while it seems that the majority of people working in the United Kingdom gain wages that are reasonable to live off (please notice the word majority here as I do acknowledge that poverty-stricken areas exist in the United Kingdom where high-levels of unemployment occur) this doesn’t seem to be the case in places such as: Bangladesh, China, India and Morocco.

Lets Clean Up Fashion: 2007 Update recently conducted a study on living wages versus actual wages of employees working in the countries mentioned above, solely from using their local partners in-country. One must consider that the figures given for the study are valid, due to the fact that the partners are either trade unions or non-governmental organisations that have day-to-day contact with the workers. The results were as followed:

Country

Average Living Expenses (£’s)

Average Wage (£’s)

Bangladesh

£40.00

£17.60

China

£66.00

£31.02

India

£54.00

£24.30

Morocco

£200.00

£120.00

Thailand

£130.00

£65.00

Vietnam

£45.00

£25.20

These figures are certainly shocking, especially when you take them down to the individual level, such as with Rahela from Bangladesh who is working in a factory supplying UK supermarkets. She told ActionAid: “Sometimes we don’t have enough to eat. My neighbours are too poor to give us anything. I cook what I can manage. Sometimes its just rice.”

 
Left: Mohua: £300 per year sewing for Asda.
Right: A high-profiled model that earns the same amount in a matter of minutes.
(Copyright: War On Want)

Yet all is not lost, since despite Rahela’s misfortunes, one must consider that she is at an advantage compared to other exploited workers, due to the fact that she is aware of her situation, her rights and the support that is available from the local labour rights organisations.

The Lets Clean Up Fashion: 2007 Update information pack states that for workers to have meaning and access to their rights to Freedom of Association, they need to be aware of their rights and situations, like Rahela is. They argue that the clothing company Matalan is a repeated offender that excludes the Freedom of Association from its Code of Conduct, while companies such as Sainsbury’s are the most aware of such a situation:

Our Indian factory have a local trade union named ‘Kamgar Ekta Sangathan’ (which means Workers unity organisation in English) which is recognized by Central and state government. This union is active all over India and works for workers welfare and rights. The union conducts training and seminars regularly every month, on site at the factory. Union members are democratically voted in by the workers on the site. In addition to the seminars and training at the factory to promote the access for the Unions, it has [to] provide the union their own premises on site which the workers are free to join, and use as the point of contact for any issues.

Moreover, the fact that many companies are starting to join up to the Ethical Trading Initiative – whose main aims include “to promote and improve the implementation of corporate codes of practice which cover supply chain working conditions” and “to ensure that the working conditions of workers producing for the United Kingdom market meet or exceed international labour standards” – certainly conveys that combatting such a problem as this will not fail and fall on deaf ears.

All in all, the Lets Clean Up Fashion: 2007 Update information pack has certainly helped me to start my discovery on how different people across the globe are exploited and the consequences of such an exploitation, solely for a piece of fabric which nine times out of ten is worn by people living in Western countries. I must admit that I am quite shocked by what I have found out, since many of my clothes have come from the companies mentioned in the information pack, hence meaning that I am fuelling such unfair treatment. I feel that the information pack has certainly been an eye-opener and I look forward to investigating further. Why don’t you download the information pack by clicking here and leave your comments below too!

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One response

10 11 2008
Alex

I think the best solution for this problem would be for the United States, the UK, many of the nations in Europe, basically the consumer nations, to renegotiate their trade deals and implement laws requiring that every worker in their own country enjoys protection of their rights and a living wage, and banning importation of any products or services produced using workers whose rights are not protected or who do not earn a living wage. Now, the problem is convincing them to actually do it!

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