Why the Textile Standard Matters TEXT A N D ILLUSTR ATION BY MIK E H A SLER
emlines rise and fall with each new season, yet the demand for fashion
steadily ascends. Last year, Canadians imported over $12 billion of manufactured clothing, an increase of almost 14 percent over 2014. Many of these clothes were made by workers who aren’t protected by labour laws. And even where labour laws exist, they often go unenforced. Take Cambodia, for example. The nation has legislated minimum wages and benefits, yet, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch, textile factory
to inspections. These unmarked warehouses are contracted to process
owners often circumvent these laws by hiring and rehiring workers on short-
surplus volume, but the fact they’re erected and managed in the shadows
term and casual contracts. These fixed-duration “agreements” (renewed
means they can become breeding grounds for additional labour abuses.
three months at a time and employed far past the two year maximum) can be cancelled anytime for any reason, keeping workers sewing at the edge of the employment abyss.
Strengthening garment industry workers through certification and education Fairtrade’s new textile standard addresses the complexities of the supply
Anti-union policies foster sub-standard labour conditions
chain as well as many of the heinous practices noted above. By making
In their mission to keep costs low, factory managers are enabled by
training and education inherent to certification, the standard aims to guide
the Cambodian government, whose byzantine requirements for union
and support workers so they can take control of their labour conditions.
formation discourage and stall most attempts to organize: While union
Among its many stipulations, the standard requires the registration of sub-
leaders navigate a web of red tape, they face dismissal and threats of
factories and subcontractors, and demands discrimination-free workplaces.
dismissal from factory owners and managers. When its bureaucracy drives
This has potential to benefit Cambodian women, who make up almost 92
workers to frustration, the government calls in the army. In January 2014,
percent of textile industry workers. The new standard includes clauses that
for example, industry-wide protests over low wages were quashed by the
protect pregnant women from termination—affording them the lighter
military and police. Without proper unions to protect them, workers are
duties they deserve until they leave for maternity and then ensuring their
often forced to work unpaid overtime and routinely forego lunch and breaks
leave is paid.
in order to meet unreasonable daily quotas.
Toward its goal of improving workers’ rights, wages, and labour conditions,
Many factories conceal their labour violations from third-party monitors,
Fairtrade provides training to enhance worker safety, productivity, and
like Better Factories Cambodia (BFC). On paper, the inspection system
efficiency. The new standard also requires worker representatives to
should work. It doesn’t. Arriving to assess conditions, inspectors are
participate in the auditing process and ensures workers receive education
often made to wait outside while underage workers are hidden beneath
about the textile program and the Fairtrade system.
giggling garment piles, lights and heat saved for such inspections suddenly shine and burn, and floor supervisors are slipped cash bonuses to report
Mike Hasler is a freelance graphic designer, musician, and writer working out of
coffee shops all over Metro Vancouver.
And these reports come from export-focused factories that have opted in to BFC’s program. Sub-factories without export licences aren’t subject 2 6 | F A I R T R A D E M A G A Z I N E ¡ C A N A D A’ S V O I C E F O R S O C I A L S U S T A I N A B I L I T Y