23rd February 2018

Female garment workers unzip the truth about their life

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The true living and working conditions faced by female garment workers in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia have been highlighted in a research project.

The project, believed to be the first of its kind, is led by Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) in partnership with Fashion Revolution and C&A Foundation, giving the most comprehensive picture of the working conditions.

Researchers visited 540 workers (180 per country) at their homes over the space of a year, to learn about what they earn and buy, how they spend their time each day and what their working conditions are like.

The report revealed that their living and working conditions varies greatly between countries.

It was discovered that of the three countries featured in the report, Bangladeshi women earned the least per hour – about half what the women in the other two countries earned.

On average, they worked 60 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 28 taka (roughly 25p). They earned less than the minimum hourly wage 64 per cent of the time and there was significant evidence to suggest that the more they worked, the less they earned.

Outside of work, men controlled the earnings that were spent on basics such as food and rent and it rarely improved a household’s quality of life.

Cambodia’s workers sought overtime hours to boost their incomes, but in many cases, were not paid a legal wage for the extra time worked. On average, they worked 48 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 3,500 riels.

Most workers still faced financial strain, and at certain points throughout the year this resulted in limited access to quality food and medical care.

India’s workers typically earned the legal minimum wage or higher and paid into pension and state insurance programs. On average, they worked 46 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 39.68 rupees.

They were often exposed to verbal abuse by their supervisors and relied on their husbands’ income or other household earners to meet their financial obligations. However, they lived in comparative comfort to workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia.

Guy Stuart, MFO executive director, said: “The diaries provide a dynamic picture of the daily lives of women garment workers: their regular earning and spending habits, as well as how they cope with the ups and downs of life. What we see are stories of endurance in face of a difficult combination of low wages and economic uncertainty.”

Eric Noggle, research director at MFO, said: “By listening to their stories, we identified patterns of behaviour within and across countries. This gives brands something to consider above and beyond their margins when deciding where to make their clothes. Their decisions have a real and meaningful impact on the lives of these women and their families.”

The project’s findings are effective tools for workers, factories, brands and governments to make, change and leverage positive movements in target countries.