"Sweatshops in European Union no exception"

Foto: Sara Sette / Shutterstock.com

No need to go to Bangladesh to find harrowing working conditions and poor wages: the Clean Clothes Campaign reports that even within the European Union, in Bulgaria, seamstresses work for H&M for 98 euro a month.

 

Wages under 100 euro a month

A new report from the Clean Clothes Campaign shows that workers are exploited in the European Union too: some of them make clothes for big brands against extremely low wages and in appalling conditions. The campaign particularly shames H&M after investigations in factories of suppliers in India, Cambodia, Turkey and Bulgaria.

 

In a Bulgarian factory that manufactures clothing for the Swedish brand, textile workers work up to 24 hours straight and still earn less than 100 euro per month - barely 10 % of what is needed to live a good life. In India and Turkey, the female workers receive one third of a sustainable wage.

 

Far below the poverty line

"You enter the factory at 8 in the morning, but you never know when you get to leave. We work 7 days a week. Sometimes we even work 24 hours in a row, plus the shift of the next day. If you faint, you are fired. If you refuse to work overtime, you are still unable to go home as the boss decides when the buses leave", is one of the testimonies about the Bulgarian factory of Kush Moda. The factory is a so-called 'gold supplier' of H&M. For a normal working week of 40 hours, employees receive 98 euro per month. Therefore many employees work a lot of overtime to earn an average monthly wage of 258 euros: still well below the EU poverty line.

 

The researchers also see unethical practices in other countries: in India, for example, one in three employees surveyed fainted from fatigue and malnutrition while working. In Cambodia this number is two in three. Again, these are factories and preferred partners of H&M: some are even labelled 'platinum supplier' by the fashion group.

 

Fair wages promised by 2018

H&M is criticised in the Clean Clothes Campaign because in 2013 it vowed that by 2018 all the 850,000 textile workers for the fashion group would earn a fair wage. "It is clear that employees who sew clothes with the so-called 'best' suppliers of H&M still earn an extremely low wage," says Sara Ceustermans of Clean Clothes Campaign.

 

H&M itself reports wages have already improved in 655 factories or there at least is a democratically elected employee representation in place. The clothing group continues to work on this topic and hopes the rest of the industry will follow. The problem is certainly not only with the Swedes: recent research by The New York Times showed that Italian seamstresses sometimes earn only 1 euro per hour for MaxMara and Louis Vuitton.