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Asian workers' diaries show 'inhuman cost' of fashion

Women slogging to make clothes for international fashion brands in South Asia are often mistreated by their supervisors reveal numerous garment workers’ diaries. A one-year study of over 500 workers in Cambodia, India and Bangladesh found women often work overtime or borrow money from their husbands to feed their families and pay the rent. “I wouldn’t have enough money if we ate a lot,” read one entry in Cambodia, where researchers found most workers were in their 20s and married, with some basic education and earned about $45 for a 48-hour week. Fashion industry manufacturers have come under pressure to improve conditions and workers’ rights, especially post the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh.

Research conducted by transparency campaigners Fashion Revolution and The C&A Foundation, which partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on trafficking reported the mainly female workforce in South Asia is often underpaid, face daily verbal and sexual harassment and is forced to work long hours. The main aim of the diaries’, they said, was to show “the human cost” of fashion and improve workers’ lives.

Eric Noggle, Research Director, Microfinance Opportunities, says this gives brands something to consider above and beyond their margins when deciding where to make their clothes. Their decisions have a real and meaningful impact on the lives of these women and their families.

Research reveals India had the best living and working conditions and Bangladeshi women earned the least per hour, often forcing them to borrow money. In Cambodia, despite earning the minimum wage and supplementing their income with overtime, researcher found that most workers were still short of money, which meant they had limited access to quality food and medical care.