Are the core labor and employment laws failing to protect the apparel industry workers?


Labor force constitutes the major population in any country. While they live their lives in darkness, the creamy layer of the society enjoy the benefits of their hardships. In the industrial sector, apparel industry especially, is more labor intensive. As an employee they do have certain rights to protect them. Right to be paid at least the minimum wages, right to get overtime payment, right for appropriate working conditions, right for meal breaks, and accessing workers compensation when injured. Are they getting all their privileges? No. Not at all. The sheer breadth of the issue, and its profound impact on the workers suffering significant economic hardships, demand an urgent attention.


Wage Theft in the Apparel Industry:


Wage theft is any under payment or non-payment of workers. This includes violations of minimum wage laws, non-payment, non-payment of overtime charges, working off the clock etc. Apparel industry is more labor intensive, and hence is most often accused of poor wages, and unsafe working conditions. Most of the low wage workers are vulnerable to wage theft, where they are made to work more and are paid very less, or they are not paid for their overtime work. In some industries, workers are made to work for even up to 80 hours for a week without proper overtime payments. Female workers are more prone to wage violation comparatively over male workers. Due to these prevalent working conditions, garment industries came to be termed as sweatshops. These sweatshops prosper on the contracts made with multinational companies. They involve working with cheap manufacturing costs, and lax labor laws. Workers here are made to work for long hours under hazardous and inhuman working conditions. In many countries, the minimum wage is not adequate to lift them out of poverty.


A recent survey about the labor situation in US revealed that 77% of the respondents were not paid any legal overtime payments. More than one third of them stated that they worked more than 40 hours in a week, and 93% of them did not receive any payment for it. 69% of the workers surveyed said that they came early, and stayed late without any extra payments. 90% of them stated that they got a very short or sometimes no break at all during their long working hours. Investigations in a number of countries clearly indicate this to be an unfortunately common practice in many countries. Despite, the overall data for wage theft of the global apparel industry is not available, the industry is still considered as a sweatshop industry, due to its labor intensiveness, and prevalent possibilities for labor exploitation.



The need for work force protection has become more acute, and Government enforcement is a viable cornerstone for restricting workplace violations. As the wage debates reach the next level, calculations are done and a minimum amount is decided, below which a worker wage cannot be paid. In India the proposed floor wages are 1.6 times higher, whereas in Sri Lanka it is three times higher. In Bangladesh, the proposed wages are more than six times higher.


The best inoculation for workers is to know their right, and have status on how to assert them with sufficient legal resources. Workers in all the countries need better labor law enforcement, and strong labor movements to increase labor standards.



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