By MELISSA WELLHAM
When I walk into pretty much any cheap Australian clothing chain: I am torn.
On the one hand, I think, “Oh my god, that embellished sequin top is so cheap!”
On the other hand I think, “But do I really need yet another cheap embellished sequin top?”
And then on my third hand, which I pull out whenever dealing with ethical conundrums, I think, “But how on earth can this top possibly cost so little? Where are these clothes being made? What are these people being paid?”
In an exposé on 60 Minutes last Sunday night, in which reporters and cameramen were given unprecedented access into clothing factories in Bangladesh, we found out: not much.
According to the report, in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, there are about 5000 garment factories churning out clothes. Millions of items of clothing, being made for as little as one dollar. Unfortunately, that is usually how much the workers are being paid each day.
One factory featured on 60 Minutes created one million t-shirts for Kmart each month. Each of these factories employs thousands of people. And many of these factories, are making clothes for Australian retailers.
These workers might be earning as little as a dollar a day, for 12 hours work. The best paid workers that the 60 Minutes team came across were earning $100 a month.
Even though the cost of living in Bangladesh does not compare to Australia, this salary is not significant And these workers often have to pay about half their wages to local landlords to rent small, concrete rooms close to the factories.
These rooms have limited furnishings, and the people who inhabit them have few possessions. Entire families are often crowded into one small room together; or single workers will be put into a room with up to five others, and forced to share.
The conditions inside the factories are no better. They are hot and humid – and one level of a factory can have up to 1000 people working on the floor. The factories that allowed the 60 Minutes camera crew inside their walls, all claimed to follow appropriate legal and safety guidelines – but many factories in the area do not. The workers are put under extreme pressure to churn out clothes, and get garments ready for the next shipment to Australia.
Child labour is illegal and was not shown in the 60 Minutes report– but it is reportedly widespread.
60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher talks about the ‘Rag Trade’ in the clip below.
So are the people working in these factories are being taken advantage of: by their employers, by their landlords, and – by extension – the Australian companies that sell the cloths they make? And what about those of us who buy the clothes?
In April of this year, a nine-storey concrete garment factory in Dhaka collapsed, burying hundreds of people in rubble. Sources report the final death toll standing at 1,129. Some of this number were children who were staying in the building’s daycare centre.
The owners of the factories working in the building were subsequently under investigation, after reports that they had forced workers into the building on the day – despite the fact that cracks had appeared in the structure the day previously.