Ever wonder how some fashion brands can sell clothes so cheaply? The answer is labour exploitation. Millions of workers farm, process materials, and sew clothing in sweatshop conditions. Their employment may not be their choice, their conditions are often unsafe, and they are grossly underpaid. Thanks to the size and lack of transparency in the textile supply chain, the exploitation of these workers is easy to hide and deny knowledge of.
Most workers in the textile industry earn less than two dollars per day, despite their extreme working hours. Their wages aren’t enough to cover basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families. Unable to afford education for their children, several generations of families find themselves trapped in the same exploitative situation.
Most companies are satisfied as long as the workers who make their clothing are paid the minimum wage in their country. What most people don’t realise that minimum wages are set by governments, and to maintain a competitive manufacturing sector, governments in third world countries will set minimum wages that aren’t enough to survive on. Most people don’t understand that a minimum wage can be far less than a living wage.
Basic rights for workers should include the right to a living wage and the right to join a trade union. These rights are usually protected by law, but the textile industry has gotten around the law by employing workers are temporary contractors or sub-contractors rather than in permanent, full time positions. Employment contracts are usually used to control workers instead of protect them, and most workers are too afraid to question their wages or working conditions.
The absence of trade unions for textile industry workers shows that the industry and fashion brands don’t take their working conditions seriously. In most cases brands know that if trade unions existed and gave a voice to exploited workers, their profits would decrease and those brands would become financially unsustainable.
Gradus is passionate about people and ending exploitation through stocking only ethically produced clothing.
Extreme working hours and compulsory overtime are another way that workers are exploited. A typical working day is 12 hours, with 18 hours the norm at peak times, and a 7 day working week is common. The workers don’t get enough breaks and are punished for resting. They can’t refuse the extra work because their wages are too low to survive on.
“Chinese production workers are paid a government wage of 64 cents an hour, assuming a 40-hour week. In fact, 60 to 100 hour weeks are
common in China, meaning that the real manufacturing wage is far less – more like 42 cents an hour” International Labour Rights Forum
All workers should have a basic right to a living wage, a wage that covers basic needs for themselves and their families. Workers in the textile industry are paid less than $2 per day, much less than the actual cost of living.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 23 defines a living wage as one that not only meets minimum wage amounts but is always enough to meet the basic needs of workers and their families, as well as providing some discretionary income. There should be no wage lower than the living wage and it should be paid for a basic working week without overtime.
“Most workers in the textile industry earn less than two dollars per day, despite their extreme working hours.”
Child labour and cotton
Child labour is still used in the textile industry. Children working in cotton production are often bound to their masters by debt, work over nine hours per day, and suffer from pesticide-related health problems. They have headaches, convulsions, and respiratory problems, and usually die young.
“170 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour”International Labour Office
Uzbekistan, a large worldwide exporter of cotton, has an estimated two million children out of school picking cotton to meet production quotas. One third of Uzbekistan’s population are conscripted to work on cotton farms each autumn. While the cotton industry can be lucrative, little of the profits trickle down to the labourers, who live their whole lives in poverty.
At Gradus we believe children should be free to play and get an education. Help us stamp out child labour by choosing ethically sourced clothing.