Home to the largest cut and sew apparel industry base in the United States, Los Angeles is the center of the nation's apparel manufacturing industry.
In Los Angeles alone, there are 45,000 workers in the garment industry.
In addition to all the characteristics that unfortunately are common throughout the textile factories, in LA most of the workers are illegal.
This is a working force that brings billions of dollars into the economy and yet they are completely unprotected by law and especially at times like the ones we are going through.
Another characteristic of their particular circumstance is that they are paid $ 0.03 cents per piece, earning around half the minimum wage.
And as in many other places, as they do not have the right paid leave due to illness, they do not have the means to get tested and they do not have medical insurance in case they fall ill, many go to work even infected, putting themselves and other workers at risk.
Sewing workers demand to be treated as essential workers.
Here we explore constantly reported characteristics that textile industry workers around the world are victims of.
- Workers are often fired for not working at the required speed and productivity
- Workers belonging to unions are fired for complaining
- There are reports that they make women have abortions
- In some cases, women are not allowed to return to work after having children, forcing them to work from home
- Workers who have a medical emergency are punished for interrupting productivity
- The working hours are generally 6 days a week. In times of low season, they can work around 7 to 8 hours. In high seasons up to 16 hours
- It has been reported that workers who are making products like masks and gowns for front line workers are not being provided with protective equipment for themselves now that they have returned to work during the pandemic
- We reported last week that 500 workers in Myanmar, who complained about not having protective equipment, were fired without justification. They all belonged to unions
- Many times they work hungry and thirsty, this is due in large part to such low wages and long hours
- Workers suffer discrimination, among other things, because they are women and because they belong to unions
- Many women work from home because they also need to take care of their children, but many of these jobs, which are informal, are practically invisible under the law, which means that they do not have health insurance, and suffer even more from all the injustice
- In many cases, workers find it difficult to get a new job. Belonging to unions put them on the blacklist
- Workers report that if they request better wages, they are told that the job will be given to someone else
- In garment factories that remain open, many workers report dirty working conditions such as lack of soap or hand sanitizer. Employers are also reported to have failed to implement social distancing practices
To describe in more detail the circumstances experienced by workers in the textile industry, I explored two stories taken from the book "To Die For" by Lucy Siegle, a British journalist and writer of environmental issues.
The story tells that Ke Ling (not her real name) told her she works regularly from 7 PM to 6 in the morning and that she would call her the night shift but that in reality it is only a continuation because she just finished a shift that started at 7 in the morning and ended at 6pm. She says this is very difficult but they have to do it because the factory informed them that it has been subcontracted to make a large order and they have to finish it. Ke Ling receives around 92 dollars a month, she has a 3-year-old daughter, her husband does not work and half of her salary is goes to pay rent. If she doesn't pay, they have to go. She says that if she needs to buy clothes for her daughter, she has to borrow money.
Another story Lucy Siegle tells in her book is that at NorthUmbria University, 60 students in their first year of fashion decided to do the experiment of working in a simulated clothing factory with the exact same conditions as a real factory, the same line of work, the same workload. From the outset, it was felt that it was impossible for students to finish their work in the time that a real worker usually does and they were allowed to sew each side seam in one minute and 55 seconds. In a real factory, workers have 48.5 seconds. This experiment resulted in the students managing to finish 95 shirts in 7 and a half hours. The same circumstances, the same workload and the same time in a real factory, workers would have to finish 900 t-shirts.
Please share this information if you find it useful. There are so many damaging aspects in the fashion industry that we are only going to be able to change it when we are more informed.
In this chapter, we explore two more topics.