Pluto author Liesbeth Sluiter writes on the sweatshops behind the high street labels and the grave threat they continue to pose to workers lives.
On 14 December 2010, 28 workers of the sportswear factory That’s It in Bangladesh went up in flames or jumped to their deaths when a fire tore through the ninth and tenth floors of their factory building. They were not the first ones whose lives had ended violently in the work place. Since 2000, at least ten Bangladeshi factories were razed by fire or simply collapsed on top of the workers, because the owners cared more about money than about the safety of their employees.
“Well”, people will say, “that’s Bangladesh for you. Fortunately we have eradicated that kind of brutal exploitation in our part of the world.” But That’s It is part of a multi-layered company that produces for brands such as H&M, Next, JC Penney, Charming Shoppes, Walmart, Carrefour, Inditex, ETAM and Migros. Companies where we buy our clothes and sneakers. With a little imagination you can just smell the air of singeing on them. Or at least the air of sweat. Because sweatshops, a 19th century invention, are still going strong in our global economy.
A few lines in a long newspaper story about Kasserine, the Tunisian town that played such a big part in the recent uprising that put down president Ben Ali:
It didn’t take much to set Kasserine on fire. It is a dusty provincial town in a region with olive oil as its most prominent product. There is a cellulose factory that cannot employ all 70.000 inhabitants. Girls can work in the sweatshops producing for Benetton, where they earn less than 100 Euro per month.(Dutch newspaper NRC, 27-1-2011).
Just a casual statement – but that word “Benetton” catches the eye. Benetton, champion of the United Colours, the brand that likes to associate itself with social consciousness. But of course, we’re not stupid, we know it’s a façade even if it’s a clever one. So Benetton exploits labour, what’s new?
Nothing is new, that is the problem. The clothes industry continues its search for places where labour is cheap and easy to exploit. As long as we let it, it will just keep on slumming till the end of day. Despite the lack of interest in these man-made tragedies shown by mainstream media outlets in the west, fortunately there are organizations that follow the industry around wherever it goes, like a “mosca cojonera”, as one of its Spanish members once said, a “fly with balls”, the damned fly that won’t stop buzzing. Organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, that call the industry to account, that support workers in the global sweatshops and facilitate their organizations.
Visit Clean Clothes for more information on the anti-sweatshop campaign.
A Global Movement to End Sweatshops
Dramatic story of the worldwide struggle to improve the wages and conditions of sweatshop workers.
“Creating conditions for fair labor in the global economy is the greatest moral challenge of our times. In documenting the history of our best efforts so far, Clean Clothes is an indispensable and sure-footed guide to a sweat-free future.” – Andrew Ross, author of Low Pay, High Profile and Nice Work If You Can Get It.
“Those of us who wear ‘sweaters’ might be interested to know that the word lies in the history of industrial organization, as this masterful account makes clear. And garments –a ‘footloose’ industry or a ‘footprint’ for development ? There is much insight on development trajectories to be gleaned from this book.” – Duncan Campbell, Director, Department of Economics and Labour Market Analysis, International Labour Organisation, United Nations