The clothes we wear

Author: fraise

Sunday 13 October 2013, in Crafts

I’ve been working on a cotton velvet dress for a couple of months now. It’s about 10% finished; I haven’t felt like sewing much. No particular reason, other than a lot of things going on, and it’s a dress for colder weather, so while it was hot, motivation to finish it flagged.

Last night I thought I might work on hand topstitching the sleeves. It needs to be done before I finish putting together the bodice – topstitching through closed sleeves is trickier than when they’re still open. Time passed this morning, I played a few games, watered the plants, admired my year-old orchid that’s bursting happily out of its pot in the humid, northern light of my patio. Checked my email, news sites, others. Came across an article titled “I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year-old boss”. My heart sank. The Rana Plaza tragedy had finally spurred to action a few fashion chains, who signed a legally-binding agreement for fire safety and building improvements in their Bangladesh factories. Like the journalist who was hired, I did not realize that children younger than twelve were working in Bangladesh.

Meem, nine years old, works 12 hours a day, seated on a concrete floor, with no cushion or back rest. There are no windows in her building, the entrance serves as their only exit, and the washroom has a hole in the floor for a toilet. In and of itself, a hole in the floor, also known as a squat toilet, is not necessarily a bad thing; you can still find this type of toilet in France. However, no matter what kind of toilet is available, if there is only one for 45 people, and it is rarely cleaned, it is not sanitary.

Meem and the sewing helpers were paid the least, earning about $26 Canadian a month if they worked from 9 to 5 every day or about $32 if they worked overtime and stayed until 9 p.m. Most did. There were no weekends, except for a half-day every Friday, no sick leave, no holidays.

If a worker took a day off, it came off the paycheque.

Still, in a country where so many live in grinding poverty, Meem’s was a prized job, even though the minimum wage at this factory was between $30 and $38 a month.

“When I become a sewing operator, I will make very good shirts,” Meem promised. “No one will yell at me.”

That’s how big she dreamed: to graduate to a sewing operator one day.

I used to boycott name brands, until some of them finally signed on to the safety agreement. I only shop at those who have signed, but obviously, there is still a great deal of improvement that desperately needs to be done. Bangladesh textile workers do need these jobs; they pay well compared to others in their country, and allow women financial freedom that was rare before. Improving their wages and lowering their working hours would increase the cost of clothing items by only pennies. Industriall is a global union working towards sustainable industrial policy, and was one of the union signataries to the fire and building safety accord. You can see all signatories here. Hopefully it goes without saying that child labor should not be allowed – if wages were raised and hours lowered, adults would have the resources to care for children at home.

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