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Poor wages for Asia's garment workers

November 10, 2010

In Germany there are a whole variety of discount stores where cheap clothes can be bought. T-shirts or trousers might cost as little as two euros. This is great for low-income families. But there is a downside.

A textile factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh
A textile factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, BangladeshImage: AP

Most of the textiles and clothes found in the stores of industrialised countries are sewn in developing countries. Bangladesh, India and Indonesia top the list.

30 Euros for a month's work

Cheap clothes can be found at all of Germany’s popular discount stores – for example LIDL, ALDI and KIK. They attract society’s low-earning groups, tempted by well-made shirts and trousers with a price tag of under five euros. But the harsh truth is that the rest of the price is paid by Asia's garment workers, who receive very low wages.

At Germany's discount store KIK a T-shirt can be bought for one Euro
At Germany's discount store KIK a T-shirt can be bought for one EuroImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Jasmine Begum is a Bangladeshi garment worker. "In the year 2000, I started working as an assistant operator in a garment factory," she said. "Then I was off work for some years. I came back as an operator. I earn 3,500 taka per month. This is not enough for me to run my family. I want everything to change. I want a pay rise so that I can survive with my family. I want to send my son to school."

3,500 taka is about 30 euros. Jasmine, who receives no support from her husband, also lives with her mother and her elder brother. She cannot find another job because she is illiterate. She says she is stuck in the garments sector.

Foreign companies pay too little to manufacturing factories

Arifa Akhter also once worked in garments. She is now a member of the National Garments Workers Federation and wants to help the girls and women who make up 80 percent of the employees in the garment sector. She not only wants to improve working conditions but also wages.

"Our garments factory owners don't get enough money to get the job done. That's why they can't pay the workers. If the owners were better paid by the foreign companies then the employees would also get a fraction of it if not the whole. We demand that the foreign companies understand the problems and take the necessary measures," said Arifa Akhter.

A demonstration of Bangladeshi garment workers for better wages
A demonstration of Bangladeshi garment workers for better wagesImage: AP

“Clean Clothing Campaign”

In the past, such demands have often fallen on deaf ears. One organization in Germany is very concerned. Gisela Bruckhardt’s “Clean Clothing Campaign” promotes clothes that are untainted by human rights violations, exploitation, harassment and low wages. Bruckhardt says companies in Germany should be fully accountable:

"We want these organizations to pay garment workers accordingly. Wages must be high enough for any employee to be able to survive with her/his family. These organizations must visit these factories every now and then to see how things are run. But we can't really force them to visit. This is a serious problem. "

Gisela Bruckhardt says the German government should come forward in such cases, enact laws to defend and protect these employees: "After all they are producing for us. These employees should be able to sue German companies in a federal court and claim their rights."

There are almost two million garments workers in Bangladesh and thousands of garments factories.

Author: Marina Joarder

Editor: Anne Thomas