Everything Comes At A Price: Unacceptable Working Conditions In Clothes Factories Across Asia

A few years ago, information about clothes manufacturing came into production. Masses of stories churned out exposing huge brands, such as Nike, Primark, and Topshop for their poor labour standards across Asian factories. The issue came into the public eye and people were upset about it, but how much changed after this great revelation?

The answer: not a lot.

Sweatshops are still very much in existence and, perhaps, aren’t so far from political news as at first meets the eye. For instance, U.S President Donald Trump’s assistant and daughter Ivanka Trump is currently under scrutiny for the working conditions of her clothing company. A sweatshop is defined as “a shop or factory in which employees work long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions.” A report by the Guardian, entitled “Revealed: reality of life working in an Ivanka Trump clothing factory,” on 13th June 2017, describes worker’s complaints of “verbal abuse, impossible targets and ‘poverty pay’ so bad they have to live away from their children.”

The story outlines comments from women being offered extra pay for not taking time off during menstruation. This is just one of many factories that is doing the same thing, however they are under less public scrutiny. According to waronwant.org, China is responsible for 34% of the world’s clothing exports, but the average income per month is £150 for seven days of labour on a seven-day week no-contract basis. Without security, a majority of working women face cramped living conditions and daily risks of injury. Video footage of this can be seen in Rahul Jain’s documentary Machines, which moves through a textile factory in Gujarat, India.

Another factory in Indonesia, called PT Buma, employs 2,759 people, three-quarters of which are women, 200 of whom are unionized, and many of whom are mothers who send all of their income to children that they cannot afford to live with. The money earned from a full-time job in this position doesn’t reach living wage, even for the lower scale costs in Indonesia.

Ivanka Trump stepped down from her managerial role at the brand to become assistant to her father at the White House, which should be a move that gives her greater, not less, responsibility for bettering the conditions of the factory workers of the world.

Of course, the issue does not rest solely with her. Poor working conditions in factories have existed long before Ivanka’s company was established, she merely entered a pre-existing situation to which her name is now attached. Worldwide brands, such as H&M, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Gap, and more have thousands employed in factories across Asia, with H&M recently being caught for employing 14-year-olds toiling 12-hour shifts in Myanmar.

Campaigns for higher wages can be solved by brands taking a smaller profit margin from garment sales, and a reduction in produce are potential ways of soothing the crisis. Standardized and monitored workers’ rights ensure that employees have a home and sufficient living wage. There’s also a larger, capitalist problem at play here, which is that of disposable fashion versus high-quality, versatile clothing.

Instead of clothes being seen as an ever-changing expression of the self, daywear could be reclaimed as a means of versatility. For instance, if the fashion industry focused more on reducing and repurposing, consumption could decrease. This means worker pay could increase as prices go up per piece, while quality comes up and quantity goes down. As well, the use of recycled materials and repair work could also ensure that jobs for people in these industries remain existent, without the waste and personal detriment. Fair trade principles need to be applied to all clothing manufacturing, which may ultimately increase the quality of clothing and welfare of employees.

With an expected 235 million items of clothing going to landfills this spring from Britain alone, there’s a huge environmental impact from disposable fashion, too.

Changes to this system need to come from managers of factories, brand directors, but also from the message sent by consumers. Less demand equals less supply, so by reducing personal spending and opting for fewer clothes, suppliers will be forced to change their game.