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Control on clean clothes remains difficult

Large brands with the screens of their suppliers in Cambodia and other lower cost areas. That was Sara Ceustermans of the Clean Clothes campaign. Together with IPS correspondent Kris Janssens visited them last weekend, a textile factory in Phnom Penh.

Women at work in a textile factory in Phnom Penh. (Not in this report visited the factory.) © Reuters

The control humane working conditions remains difficult. Our visit to a textile factory in Phnom Penh makes this clear. Although the Cambodian standards to be a model company, management remains wary of the public eye. The pressure of fashion brands at these factories is large, so also on the workers.

Minimum wage

“There is a jungle of labels and the consumer would find his way there. It is important to be as transparent as possible.” The word is Sara Ceustermans, the coordinator of the Clean Clothes campaign. Those campaigning for years for better pay and working conditions in the textile industry. But the question “how do I know if a garment really clean” is not so easy to answer.

We follow Ceustermans during a visit in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. “Visits like this are important,” she says, “because I not only want to práten about the apparel industry, but also the practice wants to see.”

In the Cambodian textile sector is the absolute minimum wage in January increased to 153 dollars (143 euros) per month, while the trade unions 171 dollar wanted. According to studies, is the 200 dollars needed for a family to maintain. Ceustermans want the numbers keys to the reality. “I would also like to know whether the workers feel pressure: some employers compensate for the wage increases by more staff requirements. They should be more targets, more overtime perform, work faster.”

Staff pays the bill

During our visit to New Orient Factory in Phnom Penh shows that the relationship between the trade unions and the management in this factory is pretty good, there are no major problems to report. “That was not at all what we had asked,” says Ceustermans, “but in the other factories, the relations are apparently strained. That is always a shame when a fabrieksbezoek, you see only those factories which are quite okay, otherwise you can just not. So basically you will never be confronted with the great problems of Cambodia.”

We are welcomed by the Chinese manager of the company, Ben Qi Bing. He knows every critical question to answer. Yes, the trade union can be free to do his work. Yes, he pays insurance for the staff. No, there are no subcontracting or hidden agendas.

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The only way to the rising wages to compensate is to increase the productivity. Work faster and more efficiently so.

Agreements on wage increases to be respected, even though the customer pays (Adidas in this case) as much as it used to and the company the higher salary costs and so on. “Striking”, says Ceustermans, “because the big brands had, however, promised that they would pay to the factories.” The clothing brands do often promises to their public image to Polish, but which, in practice, not always after.

New Orient Factory, where Kris Janssens and Sara Ceustermans, a visit could bring. © Kris Janssens

The manager reacts laconically. “We are gesandwicht between the textile industry and the trade unions.” The only way to the rising wages to compensate is to increase the productivity. Work faster and more efficiently so. Moreover, one should be careful with sudden increases, Qi Bing. As soon as an increase is announced, will also increase the rent and shop prices. The real wage increase is thus lower than previously announced.

Look should ask questions not

After the interview, take the manager to the shop floor. In a huge hall, hundreds of workers are close to each other. The noise of the people, the sewing machines and the fans is huge. It is very hot.

We inquire carefully whether it is possible to with one of the women to talk. Unfortunately, says the manager. It is just lunch time and everyone is about to leave the factory. About two minutes is the ochtendshift of these workers. I say that two minutes is more than enough to take one of the ladies to talk, but the answer is still clear: “No, there is no time.”

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“A girl that clearly is a minor, says that she is eighteen. People are afraid for their job to lose.”

As I keep urging, he promises me that there is a worker out would come, where we can talk. If we start with the building want to leave. But once on the street, comes of that conversation, nothing in the house. It is clear that the company is.

“Sorry”, responds Ceustermans left. “I’ve already called meetings with workers in Bangladesh, but typically they will give the desirable answers. A girl that clearly is a minor, says that she is eighteen. That kind of stuff. People are afraid for their job to lose.”

It brings me back to the question of how I with confidence a sweater or a pair of pants can buy. How do I know whether workers are correctly treated? If even members of the Clean Clothes campaign, no clear answers.

“This is why we have unions so desperately need. To be the voice of the employees, we may not hear, apparently, to translate and to call out. And we translate that voice in Europe to consumers.”

(Kris Janssens / IPS)

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