The textile industry, and it's association with the fashion industry, plagues many peoples' views about 'fashion'. There is stigma.
The global desire for cheap fashion has been a focus in the media and of human right's groups for many years. Bringing the issue of garment factory employees' working conditions in Bangladesh and worldwide to our immediate attention again, was the collapse of the commercial Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh in 2013. The complex, housing a number of separate garment factories, employing around 5,000 people in total, collapsed due to structural fault on the 24th of April, 2013. According to many news sources, management of the garment factories failed to heed to recommendations about not using the building after cracks appeared on the 23rd April, 2013 (a day before the collapse), and that garment workers were ordered to return to work the following day. 1129 garment factory workers died, and more than 2000 were injured. To this day, the responsibility, support and transparency of many international fashion labels who were identified as sourcing products from the Rana Plaza factories, has been evading and ambiguous.
The human and environmental costs of fast-fashion, are many, and have sparked initiation of campaigns to increase awareness of the global fashion supply chain, to improve wages and working conditions in garment and textile factories, and for international brands to be more transparent about their suppliers.
The impact of fast-fashion is an issue that is very close to us. The Fashion Revolution campaign and the annual awareness day on April 24, has prompted us to share some insight into the industry in Cambodia. With a major focus of our label to empower sustainable skills and working conditions of artisans in Cambodia, we can contrast to the poorer conditions garment factory workers. In Cambodia, the garment industry earns around eighty-percent of Cambodia's foreign exchange earnings and is dominated by foreign investment. Across 1200 garment businesses, there are more than 700,000 garment workers, with women making up to ninety-percent of these numbers.
From poor wages and strict and inhumane working conditions, to sexual discrimination in the workplace, the garment and textile industry in Cambodia is believed to be less productive, due to work-related stress and unrest, than its Vietnamese and Chinese counterparts.
Garment factory workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A mini-documentary series, Sweatshop Deadly Fashion, produced by Norwegian newspaperAftenposten, features three fashion bloggers from Norway, who travelled to Cambodia to live and work as textile factory workers. Produced in 2014, the 5-piece series exposes the poor health and safety conditions and the exploitation of worker's in Cambodia.
The Norwegian's, all in their early adult years, meet Sokty, a garment factory worker, whose (very typical) annual wage is ~$130USD from a 7-day, doing on-average but sometimes in excess of 68 hours per week. They sleep in her house, travel to work they way she travels to work, work under the expectations and conditions that she has, eat how she does (sort of!) and come back to sleep on the floor like she does.
Trailer for Aftenposten's Sweatshop Deadly Fashion
While they have some limited insight before embarking on the project, there are many awakening's for the group.
While on a shopping trip with the group; a task designed to provoke thought and comparison of the shopping habits and restraints of the Norwegian's in contrast to Sokty, Sokty describes not being able to purchase a jacket she sees in a department store in the city, Phnom Penh; "I sew jackets like these, but would not be able to afford one. They cost one years' salary".
The group is challenged at work, and challenged by daily tasks of budgeting on a typical garment worker's salary also.
The production of and sharing of the series, has resulted in several clothing brands based in Norway to feel the pressure to make a change, including the large internationally-recognised brand, H&M.
A still from the documentary series Sweatshop Deadly Fashion
The Fashion Revolution campaign strives to use the power of fashion to inspire a permanent change in the fashion industry and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain, so that the industry values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure. Find out what you can do here to support the movement.