OTTAWA – The fashion industry is huge and glamourous – and yet it’s built on the backs of millions of women who live in poverty despite working countless hours making the clothes we wear. Top executives of Canadian fashion brands make on average over $18,000 a day, while the women making clothes in Asia earn as little as $5 per day. Given this huge disparity, it takes about four days for a CEO to earn what an ordinary Bangladeshi woman worker earns in her whole lifetime.
Oxfam Canada is launching the What She Makes campaign to tackle inequality in the fashion industry and demand Canadian clothing brands pay a living wage to the women who make our clothes.
“Eighty per cent of Bangladesh’s four million garment workers are women – these workers have received poverty wages for years, barely making ends meet and have no financial savings to draw on,” said Amanda Gomm, the lead What She Makes campaigner at Oxfam Canada.
“With mounting debt and little access to health care and without any social safety net, they can easily slip into abject poverty and struggle to feed themselves and their families.”
Just like many people in Canada who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, internationally, the women who make our clothes faced a similar story. With the demand for new clothes plummeting and stores closing in the early months of the pandemic, apparel brands abruptly cancelled factory orders and refused payment for orders already completed. As a result, supplier factories in Bangladesh and other sourcing countries, which operate on paper-thin margins, were unable to pay workers’ salaries.
These fashion brands abandoned workers in their supply chains, which left them without any means to support themselves or their families. As a result, more than a million workers in Bangladesh were fired or laid off in April 2020.
With more than $28 billion (USD) in clothing retail sales in 2019, Canada plays a notable part in this exploitative business model. No major clothing brand in Canada has shown publicly that all workers making their clothing are being paid a living wage. Brands’ failure to ensure a living wage is paid in their supply chains means many thousands of the women who make clothes destined for Canadian stores live in poverty.
What She Makes is calling on all Canadian brands to commit to ensuring the workers making their clothes are paid a living wage — and to publish a step-by-step strategy outlining how and when this will be achieved. Oxfam’s campaign brief, published today, outlines the steps fashion brands must take to move from current sourcing models to a system where workers are guaranteed a living wage.
Currently, a very small amount of the retail price we pay for our clothes actually goes to the women who make them. While labour costs may vary for most garments, wages for production scarcely exceeds three per cent of the price that is paid for a product in a shop. This equates to just 30 cents from a $10 t-shirt.
“Canadian brands make big money, and they must leverage that buying power to change the system and stop the exploitation of workers,” Gomm said.
“They can be part of lifting women out of poverty while still producing affordable, good quality products. Brands have the power and the responsibility to ensure the workers who make their clothes can live with dignity and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.”
To find out more visit the What She Makes website.
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