GARMENT WORKERS IN BANGALORE, INDIA
IMAGE: WORKER DIARIES
THE GARMENT WORKER DIARIES GIVES A DYNAMIC PICTURE OF THE DAILY LIVES OF GARMENT WORKERS
"What we see are stories of survival in face of a difficult combination of low wages and economic uncertainty."
Guy Stuart, Executive Director of MFO
We all wear clothes. For the most part they are made in factories in South and South East Asia, out of sight of the people who buy and wear them (that's you and me), in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, and Cambodia. While there have been protests and movements demanding supply chain transparency and living wages from popular High St brands, garment workers continue to lead a life of struggles. It seems that workers are having to do overtime consistently, working up to 60 hour weeks in order to top their wages up enough to meet their very basic outgoings.
Fashion Revolution, in partnership with Microfinance Opportunities set out to find out more in The Garment Workers Project, funded by C&A Foundation. A team of researchers visited 540 garment workers, spread over India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh every week for one year to learn about what they earn and buy, how they spend their time each day and their working conditions. In Bangladesh, women garment workers were found to earn the least per hour - about half of what women in India and Cambodia earn. In the other countries, there was similarly opaque data when it came to base wage rates and overtime pay.
GARMENT WORKER IN BANGLADESH
IMAGE: WORKERS DIARIES
Living and working conditions of garment workers vary greatly across countries
In Bangladesh, workers earned the least per hour of workers in the three countries, on average working 60 hours a week and earning an hourly rate of 28 taka (the equivalent of 0.95 USD in purchasing power parity). They earned less than the minimum hourly wage 64% of the time and there was significant evidence to suggest that the more they worked the less they earned. It was found that 82% of workers did not have complete confidence that they could use an emergency exit during a crisis, and only half said their factory had an automatic fire system. Outside of work, it was found that men controlled earnings, which were spent on basics like food and rent and rarely improved a household’s quality of life.
WORKERS IN CAMBODIA HEADING INTO THE FACTORY
IMAGE: WORKERS DIARIES
In India, workers – a sample of export-oriented factory employees in the southwest of Bangalore – typically earned the legal minimum wage or higher and paid into pension and state insurance programmes. On average, they worked 46 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 39.68 INR (the equivalent to 2.27 USD in purchasing power parity). They were often exposed to verbal abuse by their supervisors and relied heavily on income from their husbands or other household earners to meet their financial obligations, but lived in comparative comfort compared to workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia. Generally, safety conditions at the factories were much better in Bangalore than in Bangladesh or Cambodia, however workers struggled to get time off to care for themselves or their families.
Cambodia’s workers sought overtime hours to boost their incomes, but in many cases were not paid a legal wage for these hours. On average, they worked 48 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 3,500 riels (the equivalent of 2.53 USD in purchasing power parity). Despite earning the minimum wage and supplementing their income with overtime hours, most workers still faced financial strain, and at certain points throughout the year, this resulted in limited access to quality food and medical care. The threat of fires, poor air quality and varying levels of ability to exit the factory in an emergency left workers feeling unsafe in their workplaces much of the time.
GARMENT WORKERS IN CAMBODIA
IMAGE: WORKERS DIARIES
So what does this all mean?
According to Guy Stuart, Executive Director of Microfinance Opportunities (MFO), "Under the law in Bangladesh they're supposed to get paid double for over time, and in Cambodia, they're supposed to get time and a half," Stuart says. "But when you speak to women in both countries, they are not even aware of what the legal overtime rate should be."
Microfinances' hope is that clothing companies, consumers, factory owners, and policy makers will be able to use the insights to understand how the decisions they make affect garment workers’ conditions.
Fashion Revolution, who collaborated on the report, are pushing for consumers - thats you and me - to be the driver change. Over the course of the next several months, Fashion Revolution plan to share findings from the project via social media, blogs, fanzines, reports, and exhibitions. They encourage consumers to stay informed of their work so that they too can be an advocate for the people who made our clothes.
One of the most powerful things that you can do is make clear to brands that it is important to you that workers in their supply chain have trade union representation and real bargaining power. Tweet them, tag them and write to them. To find templates and other ideas visit Worker Diaries or Fashion Revolution, and follow their progress on Instagram and Facebook.