The Apparel Industry in a Nutshell
The tragic events in Bangladesh underscore that the apparel industry remains one of the most dangerous and abusive industries on the planet. From child labor on cotton plantations and impoverished cotton producers in West Africa, to dangerous working conditions and poverty wages throughout the Global South, including the Global North, the apparel industry is dangerous and unjust.
The apparel industry supply chain is a complex web involving many countries, long supply changes and razor thin margins. From field to t-shirt, it takes many steps, including:
- Cutting & sewing:
Globally, most of the apparel industry, throughout the supply chain, is operated under sweatshop conditions. According to the Maquila Solidarity Network, “Sweatshop conditions include excessive working hours, forced overtime, poverty wages, child labour, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, verbal and physical abuse. When workers try to organize a union, they are often fired.”
FTUSA’s standard is only auditing one step of the supply chain, “cut and sew” and ignoring the many other stages of apparel production. FTUSA is not even guaranteeing a “living wage” for the cut and sew stage.As the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) states, “The payment of a living wage [should be] a minimum standard, not an aspirational standard.” According to the CCC, “The right to a living wage: A living wage should be earned in a standard working week (no more than 48 hours) and allow a garment worker to be able to buy food for herself and her family, pay the rent, pay for healthcare, clothing, transportation and education and have a small amount of savings for when something unexpected happens.” For an apparel worker to earn a living wage in core apparel producing countries, like China, Mexico, India and Bangladesh, workers would need to earn several minimum wages a day to reach a living wage.
For an informative introduction at living wage, please see:
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The apparel industry is complex. Even the best designed fair trade program will have challenges. Certification and marketplace mechanisms alone will not improve the lot for farmers and workers in the textile industry. Strengthening institutions, advocating for “living wage” laws and policies, and advancing industry minimum health and safety standards support marketplace solutions, like 3rd party certification.
At a basic level, apparel workers need simple workplace safety requirement.
The Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (also known as the “Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord”, the “Bangladesh Accord” or the “Accord”) was formally signed by more than 40 apparel companies, two global unions and four Bangladeshi union federations – with four labor rights NGOs signing as witnesses – on May 23, 2013. However, several major apparel companies, including Patagonia, have yet to sign. For more information, visit (http://www.bangladeshaccord.org/)
Ultimately, the end goal must be to ensure that cotton and other fiber producers trade on fair terms, while workers throughout the supply chain receive a living wage in a dignified workplace. Top down, social auditing schemes miss the mark and do not meet farmer, worker or consumer expectations for a fair and truly sustainable supply chain.