DESPITE the occasional newspaper headline highlighting the slave-like conditions under which our clothes are made, the exploitation in garment factories persists under an intricate web of subcontracting chains and covert labour. Most companies in the garment industry bypass their own codes of conduct and reduce costs by outsourcing work to factories where workersâe(TM) rights are consistently violated. Threads of Labour not only reveals the conditions in these factories âe" sexual abuse and bribery, child labour, hazardous conditions and forced overtime âe" but also provides an in-depth analysis of what can be done to promote change.
Threads of Labour dissects the supply chain of clothing companies such as Benetton and Gap through an incredible locally led, internationally co-ordinated action research project with women workersâe(TM) organisations in Asia, Africa, the UK and central America. The project was co-ordinated by Working Women Worldwide, a Manchester-based NGO that campaigns for garment workersâe(TM) rights. Using action research meant that womenâe(TM)s organisations âe" from homeworkers in Leeds to maquila workers in Mexico âe" decided for themselves what information would be useful to collect, specific to their own particular needs. The aim of the project was to use the knowledge collected to challenge and change workersâe(TM) conditions.
The insanity of the clothing industry is highlighted by the words of garment workers in Tamil Nadu who, when told to work overtime to meet a deadline, ask: âeoeWhatâe(TM)s the great hurry? Will people in Europe and America have to go without clothes if we take a month to complete the order?âe
Putting all garment workers on an equal level globally, as opposed to exclusively recounting violations of rights in the developing world, is one of the great successes of the book. In addition, individual stories are put in the international context of the World Trade Organisation, the enormous human cost of the phase-out of the Multi-Fibre Agreement, the introduction of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing and the social consequences of export processing zones.
Threads of Labour is academically written and perhaps the bookâe(TM)s only drawback is the exceptionally detailed analysis, which can be dry. But it is precisely this intense scrutiny that makes the project so successful. I would highly recommend Threads of Labour to anyone wishing to learn the intricacies of the global garment industry, and what action can be taken to make change happen.âe"Ann Scholl
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