Buying Wisely: When Will We Get the Message?

This short film is not new. A friend shared it on Facebook this morning and, as I had never seen it, I thought I’d share it with you. It was made to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York in 1911, the worst industrial disaster in the city’s history. But until workers the world over have basic rights, it will be timely – and essential viewing.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire killed 146 people. Workers were unable to escape as the owners had locked the doors to prevent unauthorised breaks and theft of goods from the factory. The majority of those killed were young women – aged 16 to 23. In the wake of Rana Plaza, Tazreen and more, this story is all too familiar.

The aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire saw a shift in labour rights in America. Eventually sweatshops were eliminated across the country. Outlawed. Illegal. The same was happening for industrial workers all over the ‘Western’ or ‘Developed’ world. This was a major victory for the bulk of the population in these nations.

But as has so often occurred in history, in taking care of our own problems, we dumped them elsewhere. We exported our labour rights violations to other countries.

Now, 100 years on, it’s time we cleaned up the mess we’ve made. And the only way that this will happen is if consumers start voting with their hard-earned money. If you buy from fast fashion, high street brands who are exploiting workers overseas, then urge them to do what is only right. Write them a letter outlining your concerns and if you don’t get a satisfactory response, then stop buying from them. There are high street brands who are making changes. Most have not eliminated the human rights violations in their supply chains altogether but small changes are a starting point. Spend your money with them. Or better yet, save your money. Lining the pockets of massive multi-national corporations is not as important as basic human rights. Nor is wearing the latest ‘fashion’.

It is so important to teach our children well. Let’s encourage them to think about what they are buying and why. If we can raise our children to be mindful consumers, then they will live more sustainable lives, which will benefit the planet and all her inhabitants.

You don’t have to take this from me. Listen to the thousands of experts out there who have been telling us that we need to make changes for decades. Most importantly, listen to your own conscience because at the end of the day, this is a question of ethics and turning a blind eye is irresponsible and just plain wrong.

Sarah, The Fableists


Global Week of Action in Support of Protesting Cambodian Garment Workers

cambodiaToday, Friday 10th January 2014 marks the beginning of a Global Week of Action against the government crackdown on Cambodian protesters. The week will be marked with protests at the Cambodian Embassies and other locations around the world, including the one in London today.

Violence against garment workers began after Cambodian unions called a national strike on December 24, 2013. Workers were demanding an increase in the minimum wage to USD 160 per month. As protests continued, the police and military responded with violence on January 2 and 3, killing at least 4 people and injuring almost 40.

Labour rights groups and trade unions across the world are expressing outrage at the brutal violence and are calling on global clothing brands to use their influence to achieve an end to repression against workers involved in wage protests and the resumption of good-faith wage negotiations.

The groups, including Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Union League for Brand Responsibility, Workers United, SEIU, Framtiden i våre hender, and CNV Internationaal, The Netherlands, are calling on global clothing brands to take immediate action and contact the Cambodian government demanding an end to the violence and immediate release of those who have been detailed for participation in the protests. They are also demanding that the government adhere to the guidelines set out by the International Labour Organisation.

“Whilst our primary concern is the safety and well-being of those workers who have been detained, we are also calling on brands to look at the long-term implications of their purchasing practices.” said Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “Until brands recognise that these practices contribute to the poverty wages received by workers in Cambodia, and in turn the demonstrations we are witnessing, then no brand sourcing from Cambodia can claim to be acting fairly or decently.”

As poverty wages are at the root of the demonstrations, the groups involved are also asking global clothing brands to recognise the role they play and take immediate action including:

Publicly stating that any future apparel and footwear orders in Cambodia depend on:

  • an immediate end to the violence against workers; 
  • the release of all those detained in the wage protests and the dropping of all charges;
  • government re-establishing the right to strike and assemble; 

Paying fair prices to factories, sufficient to enable employers to pay a decent wage;
Supporting the workers’ call for a substantial increase in the minimum wage (to USD 160); and
Committing to maintaining buying volumes from Cambodia if wages were to rise.

Cambodia’s garment industry employs over 500,000 people, is responsible for around 95% of Cambodia’s export industry and is worth €3.38 billion a year. The minimum wage falls a long way short of a living wage, and the poverty wages workers receive contribute to shocking levels of malnutrition amongst the mainly young female workforce.

“These latest horrific developments demonstrate why authorities can no longer afford to ignore the social problems and poor living conditions facing workers in Cambodia today,” said Tola Meoun, Head of Labor Programmes for the Cambodian NGO Community Legal Education Centre.

Regardless of whether you are able to attend any of the demonstrations or events, show your solidarity and make a commitment to finding out where and how the clothes you are buying are made. Consumers cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the flagrant abuses of international labour laws that are committed in the fashion industry. Global brands will continue to exploit people and the land in the quest for cheaper prices until we vote with our collective purchasing power.

Take a look in your own wardrobes this week and you’re bound to find items labelled ‘Made in Cambodia’. There are factories in Cambodia that work ethically – of course – but with a minimum wage of less than USD 160 per month, it’s clear the vast majority of clothes made in the country are done so in an exploitative way.

What’s bought in the past is done and it’s time to look forward and make a commitment to buying ethically sourced clothing. It’s not difficult. Your favourite high street brand should have a sustainability policy on their web site so you can have a read through and decide for yourself whether they are doing enough to ensure the safety, wellbeing and remuneration of the workers who are making their garments.

Regular updates on the developing situation in Cambodia can be found from the following:
LICADHO – Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights
CLEC – Community Legal Education Center

Information on the January 10 Day of Action events can be found here.