The daily nightmare of women in Asian fast fashion factories

New reports spot the daily treatment women endure in Asian factories from fast fashion giants GAP and H&M

in brief

According to two reports of International Labor Organizations, female workers in Gap and H&M supplying factories suffer from daily gender-based abuses. 550 workers in 53 factories of Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia have been asked about it since the beginning of the year. The fast retailers have publicly vowed to act against these allegations.

As I was about to post an article on the recent initiative from fast fashion giant Gap, pledging to preserve the equivalent of daily drinkable water needs for 5 millions people – 10 billions liters of water by 2020; I came across the recent reports published by Global Labor Justice, incriminating Asian factories of Gap and H&M.

Based on researches done between January and May 2018, in 9 garments production hubs in Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodge, Indonésie, Inde and Sri Lanka), these rapports put the spotlight on testimonies from more than 540 female workers, victims of daily abuses.

“Supervisors require us to work in the night, but we do not get transport to go home. People from the factory take advantage of women in this position. We are harassed by men who wait outside the factory gates at night, especially younger women.” tells a female worker from a supplier of Gap in Sri Lanka.

When fashion disempowers women

Fast fashion, although in an indirect way, does indeed disempower women. When we consider all the way our elders came from, all the fights they gave so that our rights are respected today; it is so heartbreaking to see that on the other side of our planet, our consumption impacts other women, to the point where they’re brought back in time to the very conditions our ancestors fought against in the past centuries.

“We must understand gender-based violence as an outcome of the global supply chain structure. H&M and Gap’s fast fashion supply chain model creates unreasonable production targets and underbid contracts, resulting in women working unpaid overtime and working very fast under extreme pressure.”says Jennifer Rosenbaum, US director of Global Labour Justice.

By purchasing these garments, we condemn generations of young women to the circle of poverty. Because as the industry is responsible for a lot of Human rights abuses, women pay the high price. Why? Because they’re simply more represented: 80% of the textile production in Asia is made by women aged from 18 to 24.

It can seem a bit far from us, and hence it does because our elders have been fighting on these kinds of issues since the mid 19th century so that we can, today, enjoy “similar” rights to those of men. But still, it only takes a look back to see that at that time, we could also find these problems in occidental garment factories, be it abusive supervisors, or even mafia-related issues. The problem today is to observe that women in so many countries still suffer from the same problems, on a daily basis.

The hidden price(s) of fast disposable fashion

The reality is not pretty. The cheap clothes we buy cost a lot more to those who make them. Most of the women working in these factories start working around the age of 14, on average for 14hours a day, for ridiculous salaries (when they’re paid), while being sexually harassed on a daily basis.

A reality that challenges us, especially since these incidents aren’t isolated. According to the reports, they reflect a convergence of risk factors for gendered violence in factories supplying H&M and Gap.

So what can we do?

Both retailers have vowed to launch their own investigations after the reports were published. But as they say they support all the initiatives against these violences, including regulation from the International Labor Organization, the problem’s complexity makes it even harder to resolve. Because we’re talking here about factories working for H&M and Gap, not their own factories. The influence of these retailers, albeit being huge on volumes, remains limited against corrupted political systems, mafias and other trafics surrounding the making of our garments in these countries today.

So how can we answer these injustices, which seem to be more chocking everyday? Maybe through the collective. Consumers on one side, have to realize their responsibility in this, as final clients of this infernal chain, in order to exerce their power on brands. Thereafter, brands, pushed by their customers, will have to collectively act (just like they already do for the environment) to establish their authority on their own supply chain. A journey that, although it may seem long and complex, will not be less promising on the long run: if the chain as a whole becomes healthy, the business can only be better.

During the upcoming Salon du Luxe Paris 2018, I will talk about the subject of supply chains during my keynote « Sustainable x Innovation = what future for fashion and luxury?« . Details & Registration here.

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