Sweatshops are Still in Business

sweatshop, eco fashion, garment industry

Well here is some depressing information… This report by the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) is a study of garment worker conditions in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. The Guardian has summed up the report quite nicely, (or you can read the full report here) but the general findings were that many garment workers are still forced into overtime and not paid a living wage (in most cases, not paid the minimum wage.)

The report goes on to explain that very few workers are given permanent jobs, instead they have temporary contracts or are called in on a day to day basis. Targets are often impossible to reach so bonuses are never awarded, and some workers do up to 130 hours of overtime a month. The report is utterly depressing, and makes me think back to last Monday’s article about the rising price of cotton. We all sit here and say “this is appalling!” but are we willing to pay 10-20% more for our clothes, to know that the workers are paid a living wage?

sweatshop, eco fashion, garment industry

How much extra are you willing to pay for one of these jackets, knowing the workers got over the minimum wage?

I took a group of students to a factory in Vancouver one day, and the factory explained that some of their seamstresses get paid minimum wage. The students were shocked, and told me that the worker should get paid more. So we did the maths…

This particular factory (which, by the way, seemed to have excellent working conditions) made sporty waterproof jackets. Let’s imagine a jacket of this sort costs about $100 in the store. That means the store probably buys the jacket from the factory (this is presuming there isn’t a wholesaler in between…) for $40. Here is a possible breakdown:

  • 2 hours to construct the jacket (minimum wage was $8 a hour) = $16
  • Materials (fabric, labels, zips, etc…) = $8
  • Profit (includes factory rent, machines, other salaries, marketing, etc…) = $16 (which is not very much.)

If we increased the pay to $10 an hour, then the cost of the jacket would be about $48 (profit has to go up if the cost goes up, as they are calculated based on percentages, not figures.) That means in the store, the jacket will be about $120.

Are you willing to pay an extra 20% just to know that the worker was paid a bit more? Your jacket isn’t better quality, the materials aren’t more luxury, the jacket won’t last any longer…that $20 only translates into an extra $4 for the worker. Is it worth it? Maybe not in this case. But if the worker isn’t getting paid a living wage (like the ones studied in the report) then I would say yes, it IS worth spending that money.

sweatshop, eco fashion, garment industry

Victoria's Secret lingerie (left) and Levis jeans (right) are both of hiring factories that fail to pay their garment workers a living wage.

Of course, not many people agree with me, and until the companies using these factories are regulated, or the factories themselves are regulated, then I don’t think we are going to see many changes.

In case you are wondering, here are some of the brands using the factories mentioend in the report (NONE of which pay a living wage.) See the rest of the brands here.

  • Armani Exchange
  • Calvin Klein
  • Converse
  • Gap
  • Levi’s
  • Nike
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Victoria’s Secret

Images: jackets, sweatshop, jeans, lingerie.

  • http://twitter.com/dianasof Diana Z.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Before, people didn’t have as many garments in their closets (they might have had a couple of every day outfits, and then the fancy church outfit, for example), but now since it’s so cheap to buy stuff (say, F21, where the prices are pretty ridiculous), paying a lot for everyday items seems ridiculous. I’m a poor student, so as much as I would love to constantly support local small businesses that construct every garment in-studio, I couldn’t afford it. I try not to buy too much cheap stuff that was probably made in a Sweatshop, or buy stuff from thrift stores. Also, I’m going to start reducing my closet and saving up money to buy quality clothes. In this case, I would definitely pay the extra percentage in order to ensure workers aren’t being exploited by our consumption.

  • http://twitter.com/megmcewan Meg McEwan

    Thanks for drawing attention to this. I find this correlates closely to your recent topic “Buy Less Choose Well.” It is so important to recognize brands that take responsibility in production and reward them with our dollars. Not only does this help at the individual level (ie the workers then receive a liveable wage) but it sets an example of higher standards.
    A great brand that takes into account both working conditions and sustainability (without insane pricing) is Spanish made Coclico shoes http://www.coclico.com/

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the problem is that many people aren’t willing to spend a little bit more… I think the government needs to be responsible for controlling this, as then there is no choice. Either its “fair” or it isn’t imported.

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