Gallery: Is Southeast Asia the New Gar...

Southeast Asia, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, War on Want, human rights

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Thousands of migrant workers in Southeast Asia suffer “dangerously negligent” wage and workplace standards in the name of affordable fashion, according to a new report from War on Want and the Asian Immigrant Center. Workers interviewed for the study, which focuses on women who migrated to Thailand and Malaysia and within Cambodia to find work in the garment industry, frequently cited 10-hour days without overtime pay, chronic harassment, unsafe working and living environments, and below-subsistence wages. They were also prevented from organizing, taking sick leave, going outside factory grounds, or becoming pregnant. Even minor “transgressions” such as missing a day of work, arriving late, or a trip to the bathroom could result in fines and penalties.

Southeast Asia, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, War on Want, human rights

Photo by Shutterstock

GLOBAL SHIFT

Despite their importance to these countries’ economic growth, migrant women’s rights are consistently violated by those who would employ them, according to the study. Local governments fail to provide even the most nominal protection, in some cases creating policies that restrict workers from exercising their rights or fighting for better conditions.

Despite their importance to these countries’ economic growth, migrant women’s rights are consistently violated.

“Once in the employment sector, workers are given little to no job security,” the report notes. “Migrants live in a temporary and precarious state—which is beneficial to the employers, who can hire and fire according to demand, but which is detrimental to a worker’s life, livelihood, and future.”

High-street retailers such as Gap, Zara, Marks & Spencer, and H&M do not operate the factories they contract in these countries, but they profit from the rampant exploitation. Indeed free-trade agreements negotiated by the Association of South-East Asian Nations have made the region an increasingly attractive alternative to China, where wages are rising by double digits each year.

Southeast Asia, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, War on Want, human rights

Photo by Shutterstock

SHORTCHANGED

In their quest for competitiveness, however, these countries are willing to overlook existing labor laws in favor of attracting foreign investments. “Wages are therefore extremely low, employment is on a short-term basis, and rights are severely limited,” says the report. “It is especially difficult for migrant workers to challenge labor-rights violations through the courts due to their precarious immigration status. Many employers simply dismiss migrant workers if they complain, and loss of employment immediately leaves migrants subject to deportation.”

Migrants are among the most vulnerable groups of workers employers believe they can freely exploit.

Although workers in Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia face different challenges, a number of similarities bind the case studies together: The woman are generally young, live in overcrowded and unsanitary dormitories in or close to the factory, and have little contact with the outside world. Migrant women are not eligible for maternity leave and face discrimination (or outright dismissal) if they become pregnant.

Because migrant workers rarely know which brands they are producing for nor about codes of conduct that might cover their factory, their negotiating power is virtually nonexistent. Still one bright spot remains: the grassroots organizations that are working to place more pressure on governments, international buyers, and suppliers to respect workers’ rights.

You can also urge brands that source from Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand to respect the dues of migrant workers in their supply chains, including their right to collective bargaining. “War on Want believes that women migrant workers in South-East Asia, like all workers, have the right to a living wage and decent working conditions,” the report says.

+ Restricted Rights: Migrant women workers in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

+ War on Want

One Response to “Is Southeast Asia the New Garment-Sweatshop Capital of the World?”

  1. SHall says:

    I notice that you don’t mention Bangladesh where there are many garment workers & also child labour….

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