Recently, Oxfam released its ‘What She Makes’ report, which aims to shine a light on the prevalence of insufficient wages, poverty, and exploitation that exists in the garment manufacturing industry.
With Boxing Day sales eagerly awaiting us, engineered with an underlying urgency that tempts us to buy now and think later, the report acts as a timely reminder.
If you know anything about the sustainable fashion movement, you’ll know that with the rise of globalisation, the garment industry, specifically the manufacturing and exporting of clothing, is critical to the economies of countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
However, a fast fashion culture motivates brands to continue driving the price of garments lower, which in turn puts pressure on outsourced garment factories to keep wages and overheads at a minimum.
It’s almost impossible to unanimously and universally define a ‘living wage’, however Oxfam propose that, without having to work over 48 hours a week, it should be an amount sufficient to purchase food, utilities, housing, healthcare, education, clothing, and transport, with money left over to contribute to savings.
Governments of these countries do enforce a minimum wage, however this minimum is well below the amount required to live comfortably.
So what are the local governments doing to protect their citizens from exploitation?
Unfortunately, due to the competitive nature of the industry, in many cases local governments intentionally keep minimum wages low in order to attract large manufacturing business. And if they do raise wages, owing to internal or external pressure, or even political point-scoring, the risk is the exodus of international business.
Outland’s international operations manager, who has covered this issue at length, says, “At the heart of the garment industry lies a paradox: western corporates demand better factory standards and better wages, but refuse to pay for the increase in price per unit that inevitably follows. Sounds disheartening? Only if you underestimate the power of the consumer.”
Your reflex reaction to the Oxfam report may be to boycott your favourite brands. However Oxfam point out that this action could cause further turbulence for garment factories and possibly lead to financial strains that see seamstresses losing their jobs all together.
Besides this, communicating your concerns clearly to the label provides them with quality data on what their customers value and, like any industry, it’s data that decision makers listen to!
“We’re all cut from the same cloth,” Oxfam reminds readers, asking them to pledge to “stand in solidarity with the women who make our clothes and let big brands know loud and clear that the women working in their factories, making my clothes must be paid a living wage.”
The physical, cultural, and social distance between us (western consumers), and the countries in which these garments are made, mean that it’s unlikely that we'll ever see the negative social consequences of our purchases. But they matter.
That’s why one of Outland’s goals is to bring the world’s of our seamstresses and customers closer together - not just in a sentimental sense, or by bridging the geographical divide via social media, but in ensuring their wages and workplace standards are just as good as ours; it’s about bridging the gap.
And you have a part to play in that! When you hashtag #iwearoutland, the images you share and the story you tell will not only be a vote for ethically made fashion and #whatshemakes, but will have a genuine impact when it’s seen by our team in Cambodia.