"Safia - Some people say earning ‘something’ is better than earning nothing! Or however low the salary is it’s better than no salary – or better than other work like, prostitution.Amin - People who respond in this way saying low wage are better than no wages are confused. The factory worker is producing clothes – and as a consumer you should take responsibility for the producer of the clothes you buy. Consumers should ask themselves why should a person who works for me go with half a lunch or live in a slum, or not get any medical treatment when they become sick due to the long hours caused by making cheap clothes for me. People need to be more aware of how business works."
The full interview can be found on Safia's blog but since it is a bit difficult to find I have also inserted it here:
May 01, 2009
Why we need to pay more for Primark + be sure that it 'trickles down' to the workers
Safia talks to Mr Amin, Director of National Garment Workers Federation, who represents garment workers and campaigns for their rights about the grim realities of the real costs of fast fashion.
Home to garment factory workers
Safia - Can you tell me how many factories a company like Primark will be sourcing from?
Amin - About 50-100 factories in Bangladesh.
Safia - What kind of problems do you hear from these garment workers?
Amin - Long working hours instead of 9 hours they work 14 hours or even 18-20 hours and all night too through enforced overtime. They also do not earn a living wage which is estimated at 5000 taka per month here.
Safia - What are the health risks of working such long hours?
Amin - 8am to 4am means they have only four hours off, to get to their homes, shower, eat, they have no more than two hours sleep. For the women workers it is harder as they have to look after their homes as well.
Safia - Some people say earning ‘something’ is better than earning nothing! Or however low the salary is it’s better than no salary – or better than other work like, prostitution.
Amin - People who respond in this way saying low wage are better than no wages are confused. The factory worker is producing clothes – and as a consumer you should take responsibility for the producer of the clothes you buy. Consumers should ask themselves why should a person who works for me go with half a lunch or live in a slum, or not get any medical treatment when they become sick due to the long hours caused by making cheap clothes for me. People need to be more aware of how business works. The consumer pays for a top in Primark, the consumer needs to know how much Primark pays to the local factory – a £7 shirt may pay only £1-1.50 to a local factory owner. At £1.50, 7-8% will go to the garment worker as the labour cost.
If a garment is too cheap, the factories suffers and cannot pay its workers properly. If consumers put pressure on Primark to charge more and pass on the benefit to the garment workers, even a few percent increase, it would make a big difference in improving the workers situation but add little to the price.
Fashion companies can also reduce their indirect costs to increase the money that goes to the workers. There is no need to entertain buyers in 5 star hotels and even pay for their 5 star hotel accommodation in some cases. No need to spend money bribing government labour departments as they are violating labour laws. And so need to bribe political parties sometimes to make it easier to undermine workers rights.
Safia - Have labour standards and conditions of the garment workers improved over the last two years?
Amin - There are some tiny steps. There are people called ‘Compliance officers/managers/directors’ who have little training but they do not visit the slums or bother to find out the real situation of their workers. They need to involve the Trade Union organisations- they have to be motivated to communicate with their workers.
Safia - What steps could be taken to improve communication then?
Amin - One solution would be that the company gives the trade union a list of factories they are working with, asking for a list of labour violations at each, then a committee is set up with representatives from a trade union, the factory management and the fashion company. In this way, within as little as a month, everyone would understand the realities on the ground and be able to work out solutions together.
Safia - Has the National Garment Workers Federation worked with a conventional fashion company in this way?
Amin - Tesco, Walmart, Gap, H&M use an auditing company to do it. They just want a report. They don't want genuine improvements.
Safia - Are there any examples of best practice
Amin - Not yet
Safia - Profits are running high in fast fashion at the cost of workers human rights. Companies like Primark made £230 million profit last year - that doesn't seem fair at all.
Amin - Consumers are buying the products made by these workers. If profits are running into millions of pounds part of it should be spent improving peoples welfare. It should be there moral obligation.
Consumers need to be more aware of the terrible livng and working conditions of garment factory workers in the developing world. I believe that if they were more aware of the situation on the ground, they would pressurise companies to make their trading practice humane.