Europe's biggest fashion brands embroiled in poverty pay outrage
Amsterdam, 18 Sept - Europe's most popular cheap fashion brands became the target of human rights campaign outrage today as groups of Clean Clothes Campaign activists fainted inside stores in four countries. The action highlights the ongoing mass faintings happening in Cambodian factories, due to poverty pay and malnutrition in workers who sew H&M, Zara, GAP and Levi's fashion items.
Activists collapsed in doorways of fashion stores in London, Warsaw, Copenhagen and Paris. More faintings will take place later in the week in Amsterdam and Brussels.
The activity marks the start of a Europe-wide campaign to demand companies pay sweatshop workers in Cambodia enough to lift them out of poverty. Campaigners in 11 European countries will work together to call on popular brands to pay a living wage to workers.
In 2011 alone over 2400 workers fainted due to poor diet and overwork, and were taken to hospital in 25 separate incidences. Unions say many more go unrecorded.
In the Cambodian garment industry, over 90% of workers are women, aged 18-35. Many of these have children and families to provide for, yet with escalating living costs in housing, food, clothing, education, transport and health care, the minimum wage simply is not enough.
“The human cost of brands like H&M or Zara paying poverty wages is seen when hundreds of workers pass out due to exhaustion and malnutrition. If you can't afford to pay for enough food for yourself and your children, what would you do? It's a catch 22,” said Jeroen Merk from the International Clean Clothes Campaign. “For decades, global fashion brands have made excuses about why they shouldn't pay a living wage. Its not a choice, its a pressing necessity. Hiding behind the economic crisis and company codes of conduct is no longer acceptable when talking about human rights violations.”
Evidence shows that although the monthly minimum wage for Cambodia's factory workers is 61 USD, a 'living wage' is more than 4 times this amount.
Athit Kong, Vice President of the Cambodian trade union C.CADWU said “Workers cannot survive on these low wages.”
Calorie research carried out by the Workers' Rights Consortium in Cambodia earlier this year analysed the daily food intake afforded by an average factory worker. Researchers found that workers are consistently facing a calorie deficit of over 500 kcal a day, and this on a lifestyle of physical labour. Many workers say that the food they can afford isn't nutritious or enough to support them.
“Clean Clothes Campaign activists have been engaging with brands for decades on the issue of living wages, but we hear the same tired excuses again and again,” said Jeroen Merk. “When Cambodian workers start fainting due to a lack of brand action, we are left with no choice but to set a full campaign in motion.”
To find out more information about the 'No More Excuses' campaign and to join the call on fashion brands to stop making excuses, please visit livingwage.cleanclothes.org
A complete press pack is available, with workers' stories, the excuses most used by brands (and why they are wrong), images and background information.