International Women’s Day began on March 8th, 1908 after garment workers in New York City took to the streets to protest their wages. More than a century later, the globalized garment industry still exploits too many women and girls, with 1/3 of female garment workers having experienced sexual harassment in their workplace.
Around the world, the majority of the 300 million people who make our clothes work for less than a living wage and are unable to negotiate for their wages and working conditions. So today, as we reflect on the gender issues we face in our everyday lives, and the empowerment women have achieved in the past century, we should consider the state of women in the global fashion supply chain.
On International Women's Day we hear all over the World the cry for equality and basic rights for women all over the World. In my World of understanding the garment industry and how it is run however, there is a VERY big elephant in the room. I am tired of it so I am going to jump up on this here soap box (*pats soapbox) and talk about this!
You can't preach women's equality and not talk about the garment industry! There I said it. 80% of garment factory workers are women and most of those women are working for less then they need to survive let alone thrive. We can do better for them, as consumers we have all the power.
I know it is more expensive to shop fair trade and the products that you need aren't always available in fair trade certified options but we DAMN well need to start trying harder and pushing for it from big corporations. We also need to make a point of supporting those who are doing it with our actual money (kudos don't keep businesses running, that takes actual cash). If you see someone trying to support women in a real way by running a fair trade business try to buy something from them. That is the only thing that will cause real change, money talks. I am not preaching this for sales for myself, I am almost personally doing ok after years and years in the trenches. I am preaching it on behalf of all the women that I will employ making clothing in the future and also for those young ladies who are dreaming about their own ethical business one day! Let's be so supportive of other women we wouldn't dream of spending another dollar that might exploit them!
Here are some of the stats on Women in the Garment Industry:
-Today, more than 70% of garment workers in China are women, in Bangladesh the share is 85%, and in Cambodia as high as 90%. For these women, development is closely linked to their conditions at work.
-Most of these women are working for highly profitable companies yet work for poverty wages, in dreadful conditions with enormous amounts of overtime.
-Most garment workers work between 60-140 hours a week in overtime and it is very common to be cheated out of overtime pay.
-Women in the garment industry tend to earn significantly less than men, face systematic discrimination and are only offered the lowest paying jobs with little options for promotion.
These are just a few of the issues that women who are simply trying to provide a better life for themselves and their families face everyday in the garment industry. In conclusion it is a hot mess and we CAN do better. Creating a simple things for these women like job security, proper livable pay and healthy work conditions can lift them and their families out of poverty.
What Can we Do:
Shop fair trade clothing, local and ethical when ever possible. If the demand for fair trade products exists then corporations will make changes.
Write letters to big brands and policy makers. Here is a link to resources for that.
Donate to Fashion Revolution, the global movement for education and pushing for supply chair transparency in the garment industry.
Ask the mainstream businesses you love to shop at for more supply chain transparency!
Fashion is a vehicle for self-expression and a tool for creativity, but it’s also a system that is rooted in exploitation. As Hayat Rachi writes, “You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another.”
Thank you for listening to my heartfelt rant and let's celebrate women today together in a real tangible way that creates actual change, with our collective consumer voice! We can do it!
*jumps down from soapbox*
-Jennifer, owner at Salts & West Clothing