Thursday, April 28, 2011

New report finds no improvement in sweatshop working conditions

Sweatshops churning out fashionable clothing became a trendy issue about ten years ago. A new report out today says there has been little improvement since then.

The report on current conditions in textile factories in Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka was conducted by the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers' Federation. The clothing brands behind the sweatshops include just about every major brand name in the industry including Adidas, Nike, Ralph Lauren and DKNY.

From the Guardian, writer Madeleine Bunting unpacks the report for us.

Factories in three countries – the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka – were surveyed, and not one of them paid a living wage to their combined 100,000-strong workforce. Many of them didn't even pay the legal minimum wage. What the report also makes clear is that this is a gender issue: 76% of the surveyed workforce are women. Globalised supply chains exploit predominantly female labour. It's an irony that probably escapes most of the women who do the bulk of high street shopping in the west. Women shopping for products made by other, underpaid, exploited, women.

What's more, things seem to be getting worse, rather than better. Employment is becoming more precarious as more workers are put on to temporary contracts, day labour, on call rather than with permanent jobs. That enables employers to dodge holiday pay, sick pay and written contracts. Employers also imposed compulsory overtime, lower wages and higher production targets on workers on these short-term contracts.

Such precarious employment makes it harder for trade unions to organise and recruit, because contracts are not renewed if the worker has been involved in trade union activity. On average, 25% of workers in Indonesia were short-term or temporary, while in the Philippines it rose to 85% in one factory, 50% at another.

In Sri Lanka, wages were paid on productivity targets – despite such a practice being illegal. At one factory in Girigara, basic pay was cut if targets set by the management were not achieved. At another factory owned by the same company in Katunayake, workers didn't receive any incentive pay unless the entire quota was reached, but workers reported that the targets were impossible to meet so they never got their bonuses, even if they missed toilet breaks and rest periods to try and reach the target. At other factories, workers were forced to work overtime to meet productivity targets.

The report found that excessive overtime was the "norm" in sportswear and leisurewear factories in Indonesia; workers in all the factories surveyed were doing between 10 and 40 hours of overtime a week. There were incidents of mental and physical abuse when workers failed to reach production targets – in one factory, 40 workers were locked in an unventilated room without access to toilet facilities, water and food for over three hours as a punishment.

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