Who doesn't love a bargain? When that embellished pink designer blazer you have been coveting, donned by your favourite celebrity, arrives at your nearest high street store in imitation form, it’s pretty hard to resist snapping it up. High street stores are filled with the latest fashion trends from the catwalks of London, Paris and Milan for a fraction of the price to the delight of most of us. However, have you ever stopped and thought about where these clothes originate from? Our desire to have the latest ‘must-have’ design at a price to suit our respective budgets usually means that someone along the supply chain has had to suffer.
A high portion of the clothes available in high street shops have been manufactured in sweatshops, which are defined by the U.S. Department of Labour as factories that ‘violate two or more labour laws.’ They usually pay their employees, who work in unsafe and unsanitary environments, significantly less than minimum wage. Disturbing figures released by the International Labour Organization estimates that ‘250 million children, 61% in Asia, 32% in Africa, and 7% in Latin America’ are employed in sweatshops with women making up 85 to 90 percent of sweatshop workers.’
UNITE, the U.S. garment workers union further defines sweatshops as factories that prevent the formation of independent unions to campaign for better working conditions. A previous report carried out by Business Week revealed that employers imposed various fines on workers for taking too long while using the toilet, making minor mistakes and arriving late. What is particularly disturbing about this is that due to the high cost of the fines, workers are often unable to pay them off, finding themselves trapped in a system which essentially equates to modern day slavery. Hundreds of people are being killed annually due to poor working conditions in the name of a disposable fashion industry.
A study carried out by the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) on sweatshops in Mexico startlingly revealed that 1.5 million children and teenagers between the ages of 5-17 are illegally employed in the country. Over half of these children receive minimal or no pay at all.
The enormous pressures facing workers at one Mexican sweatshop sees employees expected to meet a quota of 1,000 items per day. In order to meet this quota, workers would need to produce more than one item a minute. GlobalExchange.org have stated that the ‘quota is so high that the workers are unable to have a drink or go to the toilet all day.’
On the 24th of April 2013, the world was faced with the consequences of cheap clothing. The eight floor in Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka collapsed. Tragically, 1,100 employees died as a result of the collapse with over 2,000 injured. Bangladesh is the world’s second biggest exporter of clothes and with several factories that fail to conform to safety regulations operating in the country, this is a regular occurrence. The Rana Plaza factory was operating without a safety certificate. As is the case with many sweatshops, the supervisor in this case locked the gates of the building while workers were still inside. Management told BBC Panorama reporter Richard Bilton that the locking of gates was a means to stop employees stealing. The Maquila Solidarity Network has stated that this and other buildings have collapsed ‘as a result of factory owners violating building codes and health and safety regulations.’
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