More specifically, we’re looking at every process involved in the creation of a garment, shoes, bags, jewellery, and how people at each stage of this supply chain are treated.
The part of the supply chain that has gained the most public awareness and understanding, is the final stage, where clothes are cut and sewn.
This awareness is largely thanks to the work of films like The True Cost documentary, Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes movement, and Oxfam’s ‘What She Makes’ campaign.
These are pivotal parts of the ethical fashion movement, which pushes for a kinder fashion world by educating consumers, encouraging them to ask brands questions, insisting on transparency around garment workers treatment, and demanding a living wage.
Workers at a garment factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh. Women make up the overwhelming majority of the workforce in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Image: Solidarity Center, CC BY 2.0
Let’s break it down
Who is a garment worker, and where are they?
The vast majority (85%) of people employed to sew and make garments are women. The three largest garment-producing countries, sewing enormous amounts of clothing for the Western world, are China, Bangladesh, and India. These are three countries that have a high prevalence of ‘sweatshops’. (It is worth noting, garment manufacturing in these countries is not inherently bad, but a hugely significant amount is.)
A sweatshop is a manufacturing facility where workers endure long hours of underpaid work, in poor and unsafe conditions. Sweatshops violate labour rights, such as the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to a fair income, and the right to strike if worker’s rights are not met.
Many garment workers, despite their long hours, dedication, and skills, are not paid enough money to meet their basic living needs like shelter, food, and water.
In 2018, Bangladeshi garment workers were paid 39 cents an hour. It’s not only so-called ‘developing’ countries that have a problem with underpaying garment workers, this human rights violation is also prevalent in the United States and Australia.