GARMENT WORKER ANJU IN BANGLADESH

IMAGE: GMB Akash/Panos/OxfamAUS.

WHAT SHE MAKES:

POWER AND POVERTY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY

"There is perhaps no starker example of the growing global inequality crisis than the garment industry, where millions remain trapped in poverty on one hand, while a few amass great wealth on the other."  

Oxfam Australia, What She Makes

Forida is 22 years old. She makes clothes for Target Australia, H&M and other global brands in a factory in Dhaka, Bangaldesh, earning 35c an hour.  She lives with her husband, and her toddler son and also supports her mother-in-law, who looks after her son while she is at work.

 

Each day in order to meet her target of between 80 and 100 shirt collars, Forida is forced to work overtime. The pressure at work is intense as the targets are reportedly impossible to finish within regular working hours.

 

Towards the end of each month, Forida’s salary runs out and she just eats “old watery rice, with salt and green chili”.

“If we were paid a little more money, then I could one day send my son to school; provide food for the last week of the month [and] eat better food like vegetables and meat, we could live happily, we could lead a better life.”

 

Forida (below) is one of three women who share their story in Oxfam Australia’s report, ‘What She Makes: Power and poverty in the fashion industry’ which focuses on minimum wage versus living wages and profit margins in the fashion industry.

FORIDA MAKES CLOTHES FOR TARGET AUSTRALIA AND H&M

IMAGE: OXFAM AUSTRALIA

At the same time as workers are earning as low as 35 cents an hour (or less), companies and CEOs in the garment industry are making large amounts of money.  As of January 2017, so much wealth was in the hands of so few people around the globe that just eight men held the same amount of riches as half of all humanity.  Among those eight men is Inditex founder Amancio Ortega, owner of fast fashion brand Zara who are synonymous with the growth in fast fashion. The company is regarded as one of the pioneers of creating low cost clothing with quick turnaround time that mimicks runway trends.

 

In Australia alone, the fast fashion industry grew 21.5% over the five years leading up to 2016-17, with Cotton On more than doubling its revenue between 2014 and 2016. The remuneration at the top end of garment supply chains - the owners and CEOs - appears to also be skyrocketing. The co-founder and majority owner of the Cotton On Group was on the Australian Financial Review (AFR) Rich List for 2016 and estimated to have an overall wealth of $1.26 billion.

FATIMA MAKES CLOTHES FOR BIG W AND H&M, AND SHARE HER BEDROOM WITH 2 OTHER GIRLS. NONE OF THEM HAVE A BED. 

IMAGE: OXFAM AUSTRALIA

So why are wages so low?

Governments across Asia set minimum wages low to encourage foreign investment; in Bangladesh, with one of the lowest minimum wage rates globally, the ready-made garment (RMG) industry makes up around 80% of the country's export trade, and the government is hesitant to raise wages fearing brands who chase the lowest rate will move their business to elsewhere.

 

Brands also play an important role in keeping wages low by negotiating hard with individual factories to produce garments as cheaply as possible. To meet the demands of big brands and keep their business, garment manufacturers are making workers work long hours on poverty wages.

 

New research conducted by Deloitte Access Economics for Oxfam has revealed that as little as 2% of the retail price of a garment goes towards factory wages. That is just 20 cents from a $10 T-shirt.

In Bangladesh, Oxfam reports the local minimum wage equates to just 39 Australian cents an hour. In Vietnam it is just 64 cents and in China it is 93 cents. Minimum wages are the legal minimum amount of money that an employer is required to pay workers for the work performed during a given period. Having legal minimum wages is supposed to ensure that all workers earn enough to live a decent life, with adequate housing and enough to eat. What has been found is that in order to remain competitive minimum wages have been set at a level that does not correspond to the cost of living.

ANJU, WHO MAKES CLOTHES FOR KATIES AND RIVERS 

IMAGE: OXFAM AUSTRALIA

Oxfam argues that paying living wages - wages that allow the women who make our clothes to live a decent life — is possible, and defines a living wage as “A living wage should be earned in a standard work week (no more than 48 hours as a maximum) by a worker and be sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation, energy, water, childcare, education, other essential needs including some discretionary money and provision for unexpected events.”

 

There are two well recognised methods of determining a living wage, the Anker Living Wage methodolgy and the Asia Floor Wage.  In Bangladesh, where wages are some of the lowest the minimum wage sits at less than a quarter of the estimated Asia Floor Wage and at a third of the Anker Living Wage level. 

ANJU, A GARMENT WORKER IN BANGLADESH

IMAGE: OXFAM AUSTRALIA 

What can we do about it?

Even if big companies passed the entire cost of paying living wages to all workers on to consumers, Deloitte estimates this would increase the price of a piece of clothing sold in Australia by just 1%. That is just 10 cents extra for a $10 T-shirt. So why aren't brands doing this?

“We need companies – and governments – to make a choice for decent and fair wages for all workers,” Dr Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia states. “Right now, we see a number of companies with well-written statements about living wages on their websites, but no clear timeframe or plan to change their purchasing practices and implement living wage roadmaps.”

 

Oxfam Australia are asking consumers to hold brands accountable for ‘what she makes’. To stand with the women who make our clothes and let brands know loud and clear that the women working in their factories must be paid a living wage.

 

“Changing wage practices in supply chains is a complex business – and Oxfam understands this will take time,” Dr Szoke adds. “But without a credible, time-bound commitment from brands to begin with, we are likely to see a lot more stalling from companies in the future. Oxfam is calling on companies in particular – who right now depend on poverty wages as part of their business model – to turn things around and make a new choice.”

OXFAM Australia also advocates for cross industry collaboration to address the issue of living wages in the garment and textile industry, calling for Governments, Brands, Manufacturers and Factory owners, Unions, and consumers to work together to drive change. It’s report outlines critical steps it believes brands and governments must take including developing and publishing a Living Wage roadmap, and Legislation to protect human rights in global supply chains.

Find out more

To read more on this issue, check out Jasmin Malik Chua's article for Racked "Why Is It So Hard for Clothing Manufacturers to Pay a Living Wage?" and NGO The Circle's A Living Wage report.

Watch the workers stories below, and find out more here: http://whatshemakes.oxfam.org.au/ 

MAKE.GOOD is a sustainability and innovation consultancy for the fashion industry. 

CONTACT

Jacinta FitzGerald

jacinta@makegood.world

+64 21 244 0838

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