In garment factories across South Asia and India, millions of women work long hours for minimal wages, in uncomfortable and often dangerous conditions making “fast fashion” clothing for women (and men) in Australia and other first world countries to wear.
Worked to death
According to campaign Labour Behind The Label, approximately 80% of garment workers are women aged 18-35. Many have children and families to provide for and are the main income earners. In Bangladesh, this main income equates to around 5,000 takas ($97) per month.
Labour Behind the Label’s report into garment factory working conditions in Cambodia found that poor ventilation and heat, lack of access to water, overwork and chemical exposure in the factories lead to frequent fainting and malnutrition among workers.
Then there’s the real and present threat of death, as shown by devastating disasters like the 2012 garment factory fires in Pakistan and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. 80% of the 1,129 people killed when the factory crumbled were women, along with a number of children.
Rana Plaza was a shocking wake-up call for the fashion industry. It put a glaring spotlight on unethical and dangerous third world labour practices. Since then, many clothing brands have attempted to better control and influence their supply chain. However, there are still dozens of Australian labels (and international brands) that don’t know or don’t care who makes their product and under what conditions.
How can we help Bangladeshi women earning 25 cents an hour? You can begin simply by no longer buying fashion brands known to exploit third world labour, for example by failing to pay a living wage. Consumer resources like the Good On You app rate thousands of brands on their manufacturing transparency and labour practices so shoppers have a better understanding of who made their clothes.
It’s a fair assumption the cheaper the clothing the higher the chance it was made by an exploited woman. But bear in mind upscale brands have shady manufacture trails too.
Brands for women
If you’re looking to take your conscious consumerism a step further, there are a plethora of brands that actively support and empower female workers. It’s also worth mentioning that all of the brands below make beautiful clothing and accessories that rival any high street chain.
People Tree has been an entirely Fair Trade business for over 25 years, working with mostly female producers around the world. The brand empowers women by giving them control over how they work and how proceeds are used to benefit their communities.
This 100% cotton dress is made by Creative Handicrafts in Mumbai, India. They work to empower disadvantaged women and their families within the slum communities, changing the world one woman at a time.
Mayamiko produces clothing, homewares and accessories that are made ethically by women in Malawi. Their aesthetic fuses contemporary design with traditional African techniques. Mayamiko source all of their prints through a local cooperative of women traders.
This eye-catching top is made in Malawi where Mayamiko works in the community to train and empower disadvantaged women.
American lingerie brand Naja empowers women from their makers to their wearers. They employ single mothers and female heads of households. Employees are paid above market wages, provided with health benefits and child education stipends.
Naja provides their employees with flexible work policies to make it easier for women to balance work and childcare. Plus, every child of a Naja garment worker receives books, school supplies, uniforms and all school meals paid by Naja.
Want to discover more brands doing the right thing by women? Find a shortlist here.
Discover new ethical fashion brands on the Good On You App
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2016 and was updated in January 2018.
Feature image and additional images via Labour Behind the Label. Additional images via brands mentioned.