Stitched Up!


New report busts myth of ‘better’ fashion as it finds workers in Europe and Turkey are paid poverty wages.

Clean Clothes Campaign has released a new report that uncovers the truth behind high-end fashion chains and the Eastern European and Turkish garment workers that make their clothes. «Stitched Up – Poverty wages for garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey» is a result of extensive research, including interviews with over 300 garment workers, in 10 countries across the post-socialist Eastern Europe and Turkey. The region is a relevant production hub for the EU27 consumption, since approximately half of the garments imported into the EU27 are produced within geographical Europe.

The report shows that post-socialist European countries function as the cheap labour sewing backyard for Western European fashion brands and retailers. Despite a long history in garment production and the highly skilled workforce, researchers found that nearly all those producing clothes for major European retailers such as Hugo Boss, Adidas, Zara, H&M or Benetton are paid below the poverty line, and many have to rely on subsistence agriculture or a second job just to survive. The report reveals that the legal minimum wages only covers between 14% (Bulgaria, Ukraine, Macedonia) and 36% (Croatia) of a basic living wage.

Christa Luginbühl, one of the writers of the report, said: «This research shows that on our own doorstep, European garment workers are working long hours for wages that cannot sustain even their most basic of needs. Complex and opaque supply chains are not an excuse for denying people their basic right to a living wage. While brands such as Zara and H&M enjoy rising profits even during the crisis, working conditions in the production countries of the researched region have deteriorated particularly since 2008/9”.

Workers in the region are also hampered by the inability of unions to fight for their most basic rights. A Croatian unionist stated that “unions do not have the opportunity to bargain for higher wages since they have to constantly fight illegal practices such as long-term unpaid overtime and unpaid social contributions or long-term unpaid wages.” And co-author Bettina Musiolek underlined “We have come to expect that garment workers in Asia are being exploited with low wages and poor working conditions but what this report shows is that there are no good guys.”

Clean Clothes Campaign is demanding an end to the myths that paying more for clothes or sourcing from Europe guarantees decent working conditions. Brands and retailers have to take clear steps and show a true commitment within their own supply chain in order to ensure all those who work for them, wherever they may live, are paid a living wage.

The campaigning group along with trade unions and workers across the region are calling on European fashion brands to make sure as a first immediate step that workers in the researched region receive a basic net wage of at least 60% of the national average wage. Buying prices must be calculated on this basis and allow for these wage hikes.

“Stitched Up” is part of a series of reports by the Clean Clothes Campaign that look at the situation of garment workers worldwide and the steps brands must take to pay a living wage. Earlier this year CCC conducted an extensive survey among major garment brands looking at the steps they have taken towards a living wage, the outcomes were published in the report “Tailored Wages”. Based on this report, the campaign launches today a consumer-friendly mobile app where the performance of more than 100 brands regarding their efforts to pay a living wage is shown.

As both this latest report and the app show there is still a long way to go. Brands need to act now and make sure that garment workers in their own supply chain – be it Asia or Europe- receive a living wage.