Why does fair trade matter in the garment industry?
Try searching “garment protest” on the Phnom Penh Post, the Cambodian capital’s newspaper.
You’ll find articles entitled things like this: Glue fumes cause mass workplace faintings (August 2013), Strike violence erupts (January 2014), and even, Two monks hauled in for doing blessing on striking workers (January 2013), and this is just in Cambodia.
A staggering number of people worldwide are living on less than $1.25 per day, working in unhealthy environments and for unreasonable hours. It’s not an exaggeration that their lives are at risk—these garment factories have collapsed, the fumes from the products making employees sick. Then, when the workers push for change, asking for reasonable wages, they are sometimes literally beaten back by the Cambodian government, military officials and police.
Why should we care? Because we make the consumer market that drives these low wages that the workers protest. Our need and desire to see low prices on clothing continues to keep these workers in factories that have no concern for their well-being. So often, we unknowingly buy from retailers that keep these workers under their thumbs, playing a naive but not altogether innocent role in the problem.
What can you do? Be a knowledgeable consumer, know where your products are made and support fair trade and local operations. It may cost you a little more, but at least it’s not costing a life half a world away.
(By the way, we know a great place to shop, and the employees are paid four times the poverty level in Cambodia)