Most of the readymade garment workers in Bangladesh cannot afford three full meals per day and regularly skip meals due to poor wages, according to a research conducted by Oxfam, Australia.
‘Nine out of 10 workers interviewed in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, forcing them to regularly skip meals and eat inadequately, or go into debt,’ the research report said.
Oxfam, Australia, together with Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies and Institute for Workers and Trade Unions in Vietnam, interviewed more than 470 workers across Bangladesh and Vietnam and prepared the report titled ‘Made in poverty: The true price of fashion’.
All the interviewees were part of Australian clothing supply chains at the time of interview, employed in garment factories that supplied at least one iconic Australian clothing brand.
Oxfam, Australia revealed the findings of the study recently.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Md Siddiqur Rahman, however, differed with the study report saying not a single person in Bangladesh went without food.
‘Garment is an international trade and surveys are done to undermine the local industry and damage the business,’ he told reporters.
Siddiq said 470 workers did not represent the whole industry that employed more than four million workers.
According to the study report, Bangladesh and Vietnam made up almost 10 per cent of the clothing imported into Australia, and their share of the market is growing but the people making the clothes are trapped in poverty through the wages they are paid.
The study revealed that workers faced unjust and intolerable struggles due to poor wages while the Australian fashion industry was getting bigger.
‘Since 2015, returns to the shareholders of the five major clothing companies in Australia have increased by 81 per cent per year on an average… Brands like Kmart and Cotton On have increased their annual revenue intake by more than $1 billion each since 2014. These companies have the power and the resources to help change this unfair system,’ report said.
The study found that 72 per cent of the workers interviewed in Bangladesh factories supplying to major brands in Australia and 53 per cent in Vietnam could not afford medical treatment when they got sick or injured.
It revealed that 76 per cent of the workers interviewed in Bangladesh had no running water inside their home, and more than 40 per cent in Vietnam reported worrying about having to use well or rain water.
In Bangladesh, one in three workers interviewed are separated from their children, with nearly 80 per cent of those cases due to a lack of adequate income.
The report said that 100 per cent of interviewed garment workers in Bangladesh earned below the living wages while the percentage was 74 in Vietnam.
In Bangladesh, 91 per cent of the garment workers said that their income was not enough to feed themselves and their family for the entire month and they survived only on pulses, rice and potatoes — and sometimes eating a sickly mix of old, fermented rice with chilli in order to feel fuller throughout the day.
The research also examined the pressures placed on factory operators and owners by Australian-based brands to keep costs low — and in turn, keep wages at levels that deny workers and their family members decent life.
The research report said that aggressive price negotiation by brands had an impact on manufacturers’ ability to pay wages to their workers.
The report cited a number of case studies regarding the workers’ hardship.
Chameli, mother of three, who worked in a garment factory that supplied clothing to Australian department store Big W, earned $165 a month. Chameli, her husband and their three daughters lived in a stuffy single room measuring less than nine square metres and two of the girls had to sleep on the floor.
The family had often been saddled with debt, forced to borrow money after Chameli’s four-year-old son tragically drowned and her husband had a heart attack, the study report said.
‘Battling to afford the basics, the family cannot afford any of their daughters — aged 5, 12 and 14 — to attend school. Recently, Chameli and her husband were forced to make a painful decision to ensure the family could better meet their needs. They sent their teenage daughter to follow the path of her mother and work in a garment factory,’ the report said.
This is not a one-off story of hardship, but a systemic exploitation of people — mostly women — who are simply trying to make ends meet, it said.
The study found that in Bangladesh 99 per cent of garment workers regularly worked overtime, 55 per cent worked more than three hours of overtime regularly and 84 per cent felt that they could not say no to overtime or night duty.
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