I am considering myself as someone who is going through life with open eyes and knows a little about the underbelly of capitalism. But yet, when I heard the words “designer fashion” and names like Valentino or Dolce&Gabbana, well lit studios used to come to my mind where the nimble hands of highly professional and well paid seamstresses turned silk and satin into gorgeous clothes.
Roberto Saviano’s book “Gomorrah – Italy’s other Mafia” put an end to my naiveté.
The production of clothes in a price range that’s far beyond the means of a middle class person is auctioned out to sweat shops in Italy where the salary level is pathetic and where sometimes even child labour is found. The sweatshop owners get presented with the original fabric and the design and will then state the price and the timeframe for the production of a given number of clothes. Three to five bidders get the chance to make good on the promise and the fastest and cheapest sells it’s production. The rest of them can market their output in the grey area of semi-fakes. Of course, the fakes, which are still made with the original fabrics are sold with the knowledge and silent consent of the fashion brand. The control of the business is, as expected, in the hands of the Camorra.
The specific tailor, who actually made the white tuxedo-style suit actress Angelina Jolie wore at the Oscar ceremony in 2001, saw the pictures on tv and broke down crying, as Roberto Saviano, who was researching undercover for his book at that time, witnessed.
Whenever I see a gorgeous robe now, I see a dimly lit sweatshop where underpaid, often illegal, immigrants to Italy spend most days of the week to produce luxury for a world oblivious to their existence.
Read the review of Saviano’s book here and if you have the time read the whole book. It’s worth it, if only because the courageous man who wrote that book, now lives in costant fear for his life.
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TimesOnLine reports that some factory workers making Disney’s most popular Christmas toys are docked pay if they take too much time going to the bathroom (only five minutes is alloted for bathroom breaks) and are working 18 hour days for a measly 16p an hour.
Workers at the factories in southern China also claim they have had to stay in cramped dormitories housing up to 16 people. At one factory they receive just one day off a month.
John Hilary, director of policy at War on Want, said: “These toys have been produced as a result of the exploitation of some of the poorest people in the world.”
Workers also said that their 16- man dormitories had no hot water in the evenings and filthy toilets, even though they paid the company about £8.20 a month for food and accommodation.
Meng, a 23-year-old production worker who combs soft toys to remove dirt and fluff before they are put into boxes, said: “The bosses are very harsh with the workers. If you say you are tired and you don’t want to work late into the night, the manager will immediately say, ‘You are fired. Please go.’
CorpWatch who investigates and exposes corporate violations of human rights, had an article titled: Disney sweats over sweatshop charges in China. This particular article is about 800 factory workers who were laid off and the factory they worked at shut down because the workers dared to protest, demanding back-wages and compensation.
The closure of Huang Xing came about after Disney, which accounted for over 80 per cent of the factory, pulled the plug on the relationship following damaging revelations by a Hong Kong-based labour activist group about working conditions at the factory.
In a report released in December 2006, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), a non-profit agency that works to advance workers’ rights and “monitor” corporate behaviour, revealed gross violations of Chinese labour laws and international codes of conduct relating to work safety and compensation at seven factories that manufactured Disney merchandise in southern China.
That report validated the findings of an earlier report in 2005 from SACOM that had alleged sweatshop-like working conditions in the factories. Occupational injuries were prevalent, the report alleged.
Michael Capitolo, an 8th grader, made this video about Nike and their sweatshops.
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Behind the Swoosh, is by Jim Ready, a 10-year veteran in the struggle for worker rights. This is absolutely heartbreaking. Once you watch this, I don’t know how anyone could buy another pair of Nikes.