Ever found that little tag inside your garment and wondered why it’s there? Sure, it contains all sorts of precious information around the dos and don’ts of laundering… but then again, so does your mum, so why give it a second glance?

Turns out this little tag contains valuable information, including where the garment was made.

Perhaps you’ve glanced at it, or maybe you’ve taken a second to appreciate how far that item travelled to get to you. But do you know an item’s country of manufacture can open the door to the conditions in which it was made?

Labour rights such as forced labour, child labour and union-busting vary massively between countries. On a country level, we can assess prevailing wages, governance, and health conditions that shape a garment workers’ wellbeing. So knowing the country of manufacture is a really important piece of the puzzle and one that can help you immensely on your journey as an ethical consumer.

Taking the time to dig deeper into these challenges around the world helps us to slow down our purchasing and consider what impact our consumption habits have on vulnerable garment workers.

As a starting point, check out the resources compiled below on Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam.
 

Bangladesh

Overview of the Country:

Bangladesh’s garment industry has grown exponentially in recent years, becoming the second-largest exporter of ready-made garments after China, and the biggest contributor to the country’s export earnings. There are an estimated 7,000 factories in the country, centring in and around Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayangong, Tongi, Shavar and Konabari.

Labour Issues:

The country’s speedy rate of growth in the garment industry has not come without its downfalls. The Tazreen Group factory fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, were two of the most devastating events in the sector’s history, killing more than 1,000 workers. These events revealed the sub-standard safety conditions in workplaces throughout the country.

There have been many initiatives set up to improve safety conditions in workplaces throughout the country. As a result, the garment industry in Bangladesh is becoming a more sustainable market for investment and sourcing with improved governmental policies, better working conditions, adoption of energy-efficient production processes and more. 

Research from Fairwear and the 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index shows that involuntary excessive overtime working hours remains a common issue, along with poor communication between management and workers, with workers often not being able to exercise their basic rights at work without fear of retaliation and brutal repression. Wages are another worrying area, with workers being paid wages that are far below living wage benchmarks. Restrictions on workers’ rights to freedom of association also remain common as do gender issues and a lack of safe building standards.

Sources:

 

China

Overview of the Country:

China is still the largest exporter of garment products around the world. The main production areas are around, but not limited to, the Pearl River Delta, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui and Fujian. While labour costs have increased in recent years, China’s garment exports to the EU and US have grown, the garment industry remains vital to the Chinese economy.

Labour Issues:

While research shows improvements on issues such as documentation and health and safety across China, there are still many challenges facing China’s garment industry.

High-pressure work environments with short lead times are common and most factories are still paying well below local legal minimum wages. Excessive overtime and underpayment of overtime premiums are also common issues. This is largely because most factories pay workers according to a piece-rate system that does not take overtime hours into account. Access to social security remains inadequate and while awareness is rising, many workers are reluctant to register at all because they don’t trust the reliability of the system. Another problem often reported is that grievance mechanisms are often ineffective, preventing workers from voicing their complaints, and therefore the process of their concerns being remediated.

Another area of considerable concern is the forced and child labour in China’s Xinjiang region. Many of the world’s leading clothing brands continue to source cotton and yarn produced through a vast state-sponsored system of detention and forced labour involving up to 1.8m Uighur and other Turkic and Muslim people in prison camps, factories, farms and internment camps in Xinjiang.

Sources:

India

Overview of the Country:

Employing about 45 million people throughout India, the textile and garment industry is the third-largest employer in the country. Work is mainly in three areas—Delhi NCR, Bangalore and Tirupur— with each hub known for different manufacturing specialities. India is the second-largest exporter of garments and cotton around the world, resulting in India’s textile and garment industries playing a vital role in the country’s economic growth and future.

Labour Issues:

Workers across India face endless barriers to fair employment. The high demand places lots of pressure on factories to produce vast amounts at a fast pace. This often results in workers being forced to stay late and work long overtime hours, which they’re often not remunerated for. If workers challenge these injustices, they are often detained for exercising their right to strike.

Another issue is informal employment arrangements, giving all the power to employers and none to workers.

These types of arrangements, coupled with the fact that workers are often discouraged from joining trade unions, make it difficult for them to improve their situation. Fair wages are hard to come by, with most minimum wages across the country not meeting the estimates for a monthly living wage.

Another huge issue is gender inequality. At 34%, the gender pay gap in India is huge, and there has been a decline in employment opportunities for women since the mid-2000s. Today, women are often limited to basic agriculture, sales and handicraft manufacturing jobs. Sexual harassment remains a major challenge as well and generally goes unreported. While some measures exist, most garment workers find themselves with limited avenues to address these issues.

Sources:

Indonesia

Overview of the Country:

Compared to other industries in Indonesia, the garment industry is small. However, it still makes up a significant portion of global exports. Indonesia’s garment industry is made up of over 60% women, recent research shows. Production in the country is concentrated around West Java, Greater Jakarta and Batam.

Labour Issues:

While conditions in garment factories vary across Indonesia, they are often much worse in medium and small-sized factories. These facilities do not attract the same kinds of scrutiny as large factories that produce garments for international brands and therefore aren’t held to account in the same way.

Fierce price competition is resulting in many factories moving to areas with lower minimum wage requirements, which is pushing wages down across the industry. The government is not enforcing existing laws on freedom of association, overtime, and legal employment contracts, and there’s a huge need for better health and safety standards across the board.

Another area of concern is workplace violence and sexual harassment, with workers in garment factories across the country reporting countless personal experiences of these abuses.

Sources:

Turkey

Overview of the Country:

Turkey is the eighth largest garment exporter in the world. The garment industry is the country’s second-largest industry, resulting in production being found in almost every region and city of Turkey, with Istanbul leading, followed by Denizli, Izmir and Bursa.

Labour Issues:

Turkey is already familiar with many international workplace standards, due to their long had a close relationship with the European Union. While this is good news, improvements are still needed in many areas.

Small and medium-sized factories with long sub-contractor chain are very common across the country and working conditions typically get worse down the supply chain. The result is widespread unregistered employment, with estimates showing 60% of the total workforce as unregistered. This results in many workers left without access to social security, job security or the ability to organise and advocate for themselves.

Turkey also remains one of the most hostile countries in the world for trade unionists. Since the attempted coup in 2016, the Turkish government cracked down on independent trade unions. In a climate of fear, workers struggle to unite and form unions, while employers actively deter any attempt to do so by firing union organisers and engaging in union-busting practices.

Sources:

Vietnam

Overview of the Country:

In recent years, Vietnam has witnessed a boom in garment manufacturing, becoming a major player in the global garment industry. With a workforce of more than two million, the garment industry is now the second-largest in the country. Most of the factories are located in or around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. With the recent ratification of a free trade agreement between the European Union and Vietnam, the country’s garment industry is expected to grow even more rapidly in the future.

Labour Issues:

As a result of the new free trade agreement, Vietnam is giving its labour code a major overhaul and is working to improve legislation around freedom of association and collective bargaining.

In January 2019, with guidance from the country’s National Wage Council, the Vietnamese government raised the minimum wage levels. While this is a big step in the right direction, minimum wages throughout the country are still below living wage benchmarks.

Excessive overtime also continues to be a major problem in Vietnamese garment factories. Workers rely heavily on wages earned during overtime hours, and usually, they don’t even get the correct overtime premiums.

Other commonly reported issues include incomplete labour contracts and convoluted resignation policies, as well as low awareness among workers of their rights and responsibilities. With only one recognised union in the country, most workers are also unable to organise to change their conditions.

Sources:

 

Conclusion

If digging deeper into supply chains has piqued your interest, why not go further? Check out our list of sources and read more into the labour rights issues surrounding other countries. Also, have a look at your favourite brand’s website and see if you can find a full supply chain list or map!


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