The exploitation of textile workers is not limited to Bangladesh: even in Europe, there are testimonies about gruelling working conditions and paltry wages. Macedonia is a particularly sad case.
Macedonia hosts hundreds of textile factories, 90 % of which are in Greek hands. The quality they produce is high: they deliver to companies such as Zara, Benetton, Versace and other famous brands. Still, the 180,000 women employed in this industry work for 12 to 14 hours per day for a 'guaranteed' minimum wage of barely 200 euros per month. In theory, that is. In reality, many of them are forced to return 50 euros to their bosses immediately after receiving their salaries. As such, the company is in compliance with the law, but in an underhanded way they steal from their employees and treat them as slaves.
RetailDetail learned about these conditions from anonymous testimonies received via Dutch professor and human rights activist Saskia Harkema, president and co-founder of a cooperative enterprise based in Macedonia. "I visited some of the ateliers in the southwest of Macedonia and what I found there was beyond imagining," she says. Below follows a transcription of a testimony from someone with personal experience in these workshops.
"One of the most insulting and intimidating measures is how they deal with absentees. If a seamstress can not work for a day, she has to pay a 50 euro fee, instead of receiving the 4.5 euros she would have earned. That means that if she is unlucky, she will only have 100 euros at the end of the month. Then there is the exploitation that takes place during the weekends: the women have to work six days per week, including Saturday - sometimes they even have a double shift on Saturday. This occurs every other week. If a holiday takes place during the week, they have to compensate by working an extra day in the weekend. Annual vacation days are not counted in work days, but the weekend also counts. That means that instead of 24 days, these women often have fewer than 16 days off in a whole year. In most companies, if someone falls ill during the year, she will not receive her thirteenth salary. This kind of modern exploitation was and is still kept quiet by governments and no one has the courage to stand up for the women and mothers who have to do this work in appalling conditions, in addition to their other duties in the family."