Garment workers and their ongoing struggle

Garment workers and their struggle to get their compensation on time, legally and above the minimum wage seem to be seeing favorable amendments in a few Asian provinces since the series of petitions and treaties were signed by several organizations, activists and NGO institutions. Earning a living wage is recognized as a human right, but most garment workers end up receiving only a quarter of a living wage. A recent summary of the clean clothes campaign states that “1.5 million workers in Turkey produce clothes for many global fashion brands, including Adidas, Banana Republic, Benetton, Boohoo, C&A, Esprit, Gap, G-star , Hugo Boss, H&M, Inditex- Zara, Levi’s, Marks and Spencer, Next, Nike, Puma, Primark, Urban Outfitters and VF The top five export destinations for Turkish-made garments are Germany, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and France.Despite the big brands these workers produce for, new research shows that garment workers earn poverty wages that leave them struggling to survive, highlighting the insufficiency legal minimum wage.

Brands in unethical production practices

On the other hand, 2,000 Indonesian garment workers still owned $5.5 million after the UNIQLO factory went bankrupt in 2015, just after the brand withdrew all its orders. Not only are unexpected revocations of orders financially devastating to factories, but garment workers affected by these factories are also fled with no income and often, without their legally due severance pay. Families had to take out loans to overcome. Uniqlo workers are taking unanimous action by supporting a protest under the hashtags #PayUpUniqlo and #PayYourWorkers. Sportswear brand Nike still owes garment workers in its supply chain $1.4 million. The factory closed abruptly in July 2020 and refused to repay the full compensation due to its worker. Nike denied responsibility because they stopped sourcing from the factory in 2006. This was a lie since photos from 2019 show workers making goods. Their unethical business practices made the factory unable to pay its workers. Nike employees are waging their battle under the hashtag #PAYYOURWORKERS. While Nike makes billions in profits, 1,284 garment workers are waiting to receive their wages. A similar mannerism comes from Levis, which earned $1.47 billion this quarter but still refuses to pay basic safety protections for factory workers. And refuse to sign the International Accord – the only binding agreement that can enforce regulations to keep factory workers safe. Levis has to put his money where his mouth is since workers stage protests under the hashtag #SignTheAccord

A small step in the right direction

We have noticed small improvements in our textile and apparel industry in India. After the powerful resumption of the 2-year pandemic wave, industries are trying to boomerang towards their export goals, but there is still a dispute over minimum wage, fair wage, living wage, hourly wage supplements, piecework and all other types of structured compensation for workers. Interesting little developments were noted when some garment manufacturers in Bengaluru finally pledged to pay the legal minimum wage, plus any arrears due, to their workers. Local unions and institutions working with worker benefits and they bring promising growth.

Odisha State Government’s Mission Shakti department recently signed an agreement with the new Delhi-based Garment and Furniture Manufacturing Sector Skills Council for skills development of 10,000 members of the groups. Mission Shakti help on making clothes. Ambition will improve party members’ sewing skills. The idea behind this initiative is to increase the workforce in the garment sector, provide self-employment alternatives and create organized micro-employment in the local garment industry through participation of qualified members of the SHG. This project will be implemented over 18 months. After the training, the AMH SSC will help group members establish their sewing units and offer hands-on support. More than 1,500 non-governmental organizations in the district have been intrigued by the development of women and children.

Garment workers are the most valuable aspect of the garment industry and valuing them for what they have been promised will determine the attitude of brands and their business morality. With the new era of sustainable culture and greenwashing in industry, the business mindset for ethical manufacturing should take the wheel.

Michael O. Stutler