Unions uncover abhorrent abuse of female garment workers
Female garment workers in South East Asia are being exposed to physical and sexual abuse in clothing factories, according to unions and human rights associations.
More than 540 women working in factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have reported incidents of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by more senior male workers in the factories.
Workers in these factories which supply garments to fashion chains such as H&M and Gap are also under extreme pressure to meet close deadlines and are not being paid overtime.
Activist group Global Labour Justice said the conditions were created by fashion chains wanting unreasonable production targets and the underbidding of contracts.
Oxfam’s What She Makes campaign has highlighted the fact that most female garment workers in these factories live in poverty due to the extremely low wages they are paid.
Oxfam reports that on average just 4% of the price of clothing purchased in Australia contributes to garment workers’ wages and if clothing brands committed to a living wage for garment workers it would cost them just an additional 1% of the price of a garment.
IEUA-QNT Organiser and Equity Committee member Caryl Davies said all women should have the security of a living wage and a safe working environment.
“The stories that have emerged from these garment factories – factories that supply clothing to retailers with Australian stores – are harrowing,” Ms Davies said.
“It is a gross abuse of power over vulnerable workers, who are not adequately protected and cannot effectively unionise, that has allowed this situation to happen and to persist.
Ms Davies said the reports were a timely reminder to consider the impacts of our purchasing choices.
“Oxfam’s What She Makes website provides a listing of Australian retailers that are transparent about the conditions of their garment workers,” Ms Davies said.
“While this listing is useful in gauging which retailers are doing a better job than others, the sad fact is that no Australian retailer has been confirmed by Oxfam as providing a living wage to the garment workers.”
Ms Davies said members could sign a pledge in solidarity with these workers – adding their name to the more than 50,000 people who have already taken this action.
“Members wishing to support the campaign to free these women from poverty and abuse could also consider donating to the What She Makes campaign.”