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The Labour Behind the Label ww Campaign for fair clothes
Do you know where the clothes you are wearing came from and under what conditions they were made? It is mainly women and children in poorer countries who are exploited to clothe us. There is something we can do about it.
|By the Labour Behind the Label Campaign|
|We all go shopping for clothes. Over £15 billion
a year is spent on clothes in the UK. What they look like, how much they cost, and
how they fit are the basis on which we choose. Usually we have no idea where they
have come from or how they are produced. The labels tell us very little except a
country of origin. As more and more of us are concerned that what we buy should be
made under fair conditions, we ought to be able to find out more about how our clothes
Throughout the world it is mainly women who sit at sewing machines producing the clothes that line our shops. The situations in which they work vary greatly. They may be in modern high-tech factories or small cramped workshops or in the back room at home. Wherever they are their work tends to be undervalued and badly paid and women are often kept working into the night to meet production deadlines. Yet they are managing to organise to try to improve their working situation. We, as consumers, can support them by demanding clothes produced under decent conditions.
From Birmingham to Bangkok
Companies seek to increase profits by moving operations to parts of the world where labour is cheaper or by sub-contracting to 'sweatshops' and homeworkers. The wages of garment workers are typically at or below subsistence level, maybe as little as 75p a day. In factories women and children often work long hours in appalling conditions, with little or no protection from health hazards.
"We are being made to work both night and day, like buffaloes tethered to trees. Not a single moment of the day is there for rest. The motors of these machines become heated like furnaces. The supervisory staff are never satisfied however much we produce."
(Worker in a factory in a Free Trade Zone in Sri Lanka)
Meanwhile, throughout the world, women are working long hours in their homes, where employers have no responsibility for their well being. The situation of these workers is strikingly similar in places as far apart as Britain and Hong Kong.
"There's always unfinished work lying around. You can't rest without feeling guilty. You feel that for every minute you spend on resting, you waste that minute of income. And there is no-one to chat with, to share your work with. It's so boring and lonely".
(Homeworker in Hong Kong)
Yet there are factories supplying major brand names which keep to legislation on pay and conditions and don't force workers to do overtime against their will.
"The conditions in my factory are good compared to other places people in Britain should ask about conditions".
(Worker in a sportswear factory in Thailand)
Retailers are responsible!
A shirt or pair of jeans for sale in our shops is often the product of the work of women in various countries. The story begins and ends with the retailer.
For example a retailer may place an order for a certain number of shirts. It is the retailer who decides what it should look like, when it should be ready and how much will be paid for it. A buyer then places the order with a company in Hong Kong which imports the cloth from South Korea and cuts it using robots. The cut pieces are shipped to China where they are stitched in a factory and then the buttons are sewn on by homeworkers in the UK.
To meet the retailer's demands, factories have to cut labour costs in every possible way and they may well sub-contract to others who can produce more cheaply. The result is even lower wages and worse working conditions. This helps to keep the price of clothes low for consumers but it does much more to push up profits for retailers.
As consumers we can use our buying power and put pressure on retailers to take responsibility for the conditions under which clothes are produced. Just as retailers can demand a certain quality and delivery time, so we can encourage them to insist on decent working conditions. This does not mean that clothes need to be more expensive, since wages are as little as 5% the final price.
A number of groups and organisations in Britain are already promoting fair trade in garments. They have now come together to launch the Labour Behind the Label Campaign to encourage consumers to ask for clothes which are made under fairer working conditions. The campaign is working closely with the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Netherlands and other European countries.
One of the aims of the Labour Behind the Label Campaign is to encourage retailers to guarantee that all clothes sold in their shops are produced under fair conditions. These include the right to a living wage, the right to organise, and safe and healthy working conditions. The more consumers demand that the clothes they buy are made under decent conditions the more likely it is that retailers will respond.
What YOU can do
You can use your power as a consumer to encourage retailers to sell garments made under acceptable working conditions.
1. When you go shopping, ask questions about where clothes are made and under what conditions. Write letters to retailers expressing your concern and requesting further information.
The more people ask questions the more retailers will feel that they need to pay attention to the issues.
2. Support Fair Trade outlets, such as Traidcraft and OXFAM shops, and look out for the Fairtrade Marked goods in supermarkets.
3. Write to us so that we can put you on our mailing list and let you know about future activities of the Labour Behind the Label Campaign.
Contact one of the organisations below:
- NEAD (Norfolk Education and Action for Development): 38 Exchange St., Norwich NR2 IAX.
- Women Working Worldwide: CER St Augustine's Building, Lower Chatham St., Manchester M15 6NBY.
The Labour Behind the Label Campaign is a network which includes the following organisations:
Catholic Institute for International Relations. Ethical Consumer. Hundredth Monkey Ltd. National Group on Homeworking. NEAD. OXFAM. Textile Environmental Network Traidcraft Exchange. Women's Environmental Network. Women Working Worldwide. World Development Movement.
The Labour Behind the Label network is allied with the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Netherlands.
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