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Millions of workers in fashion sector become little more than slave - ITGLWF

Oct '09
Speaking at the University of Pavia in Italy at the launch of the audio version of Glockers by Silvana Cappuccio, Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation said that fashion comes at a huge cost to those who produce the goods, resulting in insecurity, harsh treatment, long working hours, low pay and abuse.

Said Mr. Kearney: “Millions of workers in the fashion industry have become little more than slaves. Most are women and most are young, some very young. Armies of children, some as young as four years old, work long hours often only for a meager ration of food. Many, in countries like India, have been bought for a few Euros from their parents or have been kidnapped and then trafficked into slavery far from home.

“A recent survey in India suggests that a quarter of all garment factories are employing under-age labour. Most of the production is for export to Europe. Shame on those fashion houses, fashion brands and fashion retailers who drive this slavery. And shame on those consumers who buy these products without questioning how they were made and how they can be sold so cheaply when so much labour is involved.

“Recent research in Bangladesh shows the incidence of tuberculosis among garment workers is double that of the population as a whole. No wonder when large numbers work in humid, overcrowded conditions for long hours and with little food. TB is inevitable with this lethal cocktail of exhaustion, malnutrition and unsanitary conditions. Again, the brands and retailers who continue to source garments from such an environment must bear much of the blame for the damage they cause these workers, their families and communities.

“In efforts to drive down wages even further, workers are increasingly being shipped from one country to another to turn out garments for export. Italian manufacturers have closed their factories in Italy and shifted production to Romania where wages are a quarter of those here. But, Romanian workers unsatisfied with such low wages and the way they have been treated have moved west in search of better paid work, often as cleaners and domestics leaving the local textile, garment and shoe industries short of labour. No problem! A ready solution is at hand. Import workers from China, Bangladesh or Nepal and pay them even less.

“And to exploit these workers even more they are forced to pay recruitment fees, travel costs and handling charges. Often the payments are greater than the wages earned meaning that many of these workers will never be free of debt. So, modern day slavery on our doorstep! Again, shame on those who profit from this inhumanity to man".

Concluded Mr. Kearney: “We surely have to ask if fashion is really worth so much suffering. And we also have to ask whether those who place orders in such hell-holes should not be subject to prosecution and imprisonment here in Europe for aiding and abetting this cruel exploitation and destruction of young lives”.

International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation

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