Podcast Ep.23, SPECIAL REPORT: GARMENT WORKERS & 'WHAT SHE MAKES'

THIS EPISODE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY CITIZEN WOLF, THE ETHICALLY MADE T-SHIRT BRAND, WHERE HIGH TECH MEETS BESPOKE.

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EPISODE 23 IS A SPECIAL REPORT ON OXFAM AUSTRALIA'S 'WHAT SHE MAKES' CAMPAIGN

As of January 2017, so much wealth was in the hands of so few people around the globe that just eight men held the same amount of riches as half of all humanity. Amancio Ortega is on that list. He is the founder of Inditex which owns ZARA. And of course, Zara has been in the news again for worker issues - I wrote my Sustainable Style column last week.

Based on CEO pay levels of some of the big brands in Australia, it would take a Bangladeshi garment worker earning the minimum wage more than, wait for it, 4,000 years to earn the what CEOs get paid in just one year.

Some of the biggest brands in Australia are enjoying enormous increases in revenue. Cotton On, for example, more than doubled its revenue between 2014 and 2016. Kmart’s revenue is also ballooning it jumped from from $4.21 billion in 2014 to $5.19 billion in the same period. And yet these profits are not trickling down to garment workers. On average, offshore workers receive about 4% of the retail price of a garment sold in Australia. What does that look like in terms of wages - we’re talking about a handful of coins. Just (AUD) 39 cents an hour.

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Oxfam Australia’s new report: “What She Makes: Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry” asks us to put pressure on the brands that manufacture clothing and accessories offshore, in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, to commit to paying garment workers in their supply chains not just a minimum wage but a living one.

According to Oxfam, "A living wage should be earned in a standard work week of no more than 48 hours. It should provide, for a worker and their family, a decent standard of living. This includes food, housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation, utilities (energy, water) child care and education with some money left over for emergencies / savings."

This is Anju, a garment worker in Bangladesh. 

This is Anju, a garment worker in Bangladesh. 

They worked with Deloitte Access Economics to figure out how much garment workers are getting paid in Asia, which is home to most of the world’s garment production, and how much brands would have to fork out to improve things. The answers are confronting.

Although the region has experienced strong economic growth in recent decades, the poorest 70% of people in Asia have seen their income share fall.

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Remember that 4% from the price of a T-shirt? A rise of 1 % could mean paying a living wage. So what aren’t brands stepping up to do this?

For this Episode, Clare chatted to some shoppers for to see how much they knew about what it costs to make their clothes, and visited Oxfam Australia’s head office to talk with senior campaigner James Dunlop and one of the researchers who worked on the report, Joy Kiriacou.

Additional sound grabs are from Emma Daly from Human Rights Watch, and our friend Clara Vuletich's TEDx Sydney talk, How to Engage with Ethical Fashion. Watch it here:

 

We also feature snippets from the Wardrobe Crisis Episode with Kalpona Akter, human rights activist, former child worker and Bangladeshi union leader.

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If you haven't heard this one in full yet - you must. Listen here. Don't forget to share on Instagram and tag @mrspress to help spread the word about the #wardrobecrisispodcast 

LET'S TALK...LIVING WAGES

In his interview, James mentions two ways of working out what a living wage should be. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) is an international alliance of trade unions and labour rights activists. They propose a living wage that holds all across Asia. It’s calculated in PPP$ (which stands for Purchasing Power Parity) - an imaginary currency built on the consumption of goods and services by people, that allows them to compare the living standards between countries, regardless of the national currency. The aim is to remove the temptation for companies to look at wage wage differences in different countries and use them to race to the bottom. 

The Anker methodology is named after the its authors, Richard and Martha Anker, who've spent their careers working for ILO and World Health Org. They wrote this thing called 'Living Wages Around the World: Manual for Measurement’ and have worked with companies like Eileen Fisher and Tiffany & Co. on calculating living wages in different countries.

STORIES...

BY Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive

Twenty-five-year-old Anju works in a factory in the bustling capital of Bangladesh, where she makes 37 cents an hour sewing together sweaters sold in Australian shops. The sweaters made by Anju eventually make their way into the wardrobes of thousands of everyday Australians.

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But not before Anju has toiled six days a week, sometimes from 7am until after 11pm, to earn at most just $107 a month. There are times Anju’s pay is docked if she fails to meet unrealistic targets, and other times the work dries up and she is sent home – she once took home less than $14 for an entire month.

No matter how hard Anju works, her meagre pay is not enough to meet the costs of even the basics – and her family is falling into spiralling debt.

Anju and her husband live in a slum. They share their compound – which has one kitchen, two toilets and two bathing areas – with seven other families. The rooms are hot, dark and cramped. Running water is available only three times a day, for just an hour each time. The crowded slum is unsafe, and no place for Anju’s eight and 10-year-old daughters – especially when she works such long hours. For this reason, Anju has made the heartbreaking decision to have her children live with her in-laws, nearly 200km away in a remote village. Anju now sees her two daughters just twice a year during national holidays. She is trapped – in a cycle of poverty and in a life without her children.

WATCH THE VIDEOS...

Hop onto the Oxfam Australia website to watch video interviews with garment workers.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Then sign the pledge to:

  • Stand in solidarity with the woman who make our clothes
  • Let big brands know loud and clear that the women working in their factories, making my clothes must be paid a living wage.
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Until next time,

Clare x