Good fashion blogger Jessie Day explains how she came to learn about Fairtrade and ethical clothing companies and their important work for derailing poor and unjust working conditions for garment and factory workers worldwide.
I grew up thinking the world was good. I had a nice family. That was good. We lived in a cute little house. That was good. We had nice stuff. That was good too. It’s what we were told and I had no reason to believe otherwise. I was vaguely aware that somewhere far off there were a bunch of really hungry children. But that didn’t seem to have much to do with me.
Then, as a teenager, I was introduced to the concept of ‘Fairtrade’ and I wondered why on earth it existed. Surely all trade is fair trade?! We live in a good world after all. Over the next few years’ reality began to sink in, actually we need ideas like Fairtrade because most trade is very very unfair. Still, my life was pretty good, so it couldn’t matter that much.
But people around me seemed hooked on the idea of ethical alternatives. I didn’t care much, until one day I realised it was all for us. Millions of people suffering in unfair conditions so that I could live the good life I took for granted. Millions of people unwillingly paying the cost for me. I pay a cheap price for stuff, and the rest of the price is paid by exploited workers. Now I knew that was totally unacceptable. I was in shock! How could the world be set up in a system that exploits the poorest and most vulnerable to benefit the privileged?
I did some reading. I learnt that reality for many workers in the garment industry is poverty wages, excessive hours, forced overtime and lack of job security to name just a few. In Bangladesh a garment factory helpers’ wage starts at $50 a month, well below a living wage, and workers work from 8am till 8pm or 10pm, which far exceeds the legal limit.
Garment industry workers in Cambodia are denied union rights, even being fired for forming unions. On January 2 the Cambodian government military police killed four people during a protest for union’s rights to strike and an increase to the minimum wage. Workers are victims of poor health, exhaustion and mental stress, consuming on average half the recommended number of calories a day- 33% are medically underweight.
As if this isn’t nearly enough, in one study three quarters of women workers spoken to in Bangladesh had been verbally abused at work, and half had been beaten, and how can we forget the dangerous conditions which workers are exposed to, a prime example being the building collapse in Dhaka last year that killed more than 1,100 workers.
The world didn’t seem so good anymore. I started to wonder why it didn’t matter to us. Is it because we simply don’t know? Or, more terrifyingly, is it because we actually don’t care?
I once heard a speaker ask, ‘who would do nothing if there was a starving child in our living room? No one. We would all help.’ And that’s when I realised, we are totally disconnected. We are disconnected from where our stuff comes from, we buy it as if it magically appeared in store. More importantly, we are completely disconnected from the people who produce our stuff, and the reality of their lives.
It’s very hard to care about someone if you don’t know them, or their story. So, in order to try and connect with the realities of life, especially in the garment industry, I am going to use this blog. Because, I have an inkling that if I start to connect, I might start to care, and caring is a powerful thing. So if you’re interested in connecting, engage with this blog, and we’ll see where caring leads us, hopefully someplace good.
Connect with the stories of workers here –