The Horror of Fashion Sweatshops

By Imogen Reed - April 2012.

The National Labor Committee (NLC) and the The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights have just produced a shocking report into the fashion empire headed by Peter Nygård, the purported ‘number one sportswear manufacturer in Canada’, and 70th richest Canadian with a net worth of $817 million. Quite a success story for the Finnish son of immigrant bakers, who will have known their share of struggle. Strange then that a man from such humble beginnings should be shown to be so indifferent to the working conditions of other poor workers, highlighted in the report, Dirty Clothes (April, 2010).

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is a non-profit human rights organization ‘dedicated to the promotion and defense of internationally recognized worker rights in the global economy.’ Their investigative work in Jordan has brought the most appalling human rights abuses to light, abuses that should concern anyone with an interest in the fashion industry or clothing manufacture. We cannot divorce ourselves from the responsibility to speak out on these issues, or enjoy a passion for fashion in good conscience while these practices are still widespread.

Peter Nygård’s Business Empire

Peter Nygård has built his brand successfully, using 1,200 mainly young female workers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India to sew his garments in the IBG factory in Jordan. However, the workers have been brought to Jordan only to find a world of pain and suffering at the hands of Peter Nygård’s organisation, and he himself has done nothing to stop the human rights abuses happening in the factories he owns. The list of suffering is almost unbelievable and it is to the credit of the NLC that they took on a private investigation, which brought matters to the world’s attention. Please read the Dirty Clothes report and circulate it as widely as possible, to raise awareness of the young women who are being exploited and enslaved by Peter Nygård, and other large manufacturing groups. You will never see mass produced fashion in the same way again. So what is the heart of the story? Let’s look at it in a little more detail.

Human Rights Violations in Peter Nygård’s Factories

So what did the NCL report uncover? The women arriving to work in IBG factories, who produce clothing for Nygård, were stripped of their passports on arrival and kept in conditions of indentured servitude according to the report. They were forced to work sixteen-hour shifts from 7 a.m to 11 p.m, every night of the week. On top of this there are compulsory, night long 23-hour shifts required of the workers, at least once a week, which run from 7 a.m to 6 a.m. 

This is nothing short of human slavery. 

For this 110-hour week they are paid less than half of the legal wage, just 35 cents an hour. When they objected they were hit and threatened with deportation. This is in clear breach of Jordanian labor laws. According to Jordanian law, overtime must be voluntary and must not exceed 14 hours a week, or 60 hours per month. Yet IBG workers are routinely forced to work 102 ½ hours a week, including 54 ½ hours of overtime, exceeding Jordan's legal limit by 289 per cent. Hardly a minor lapse.

The exhaustion suffered by one worker from Sri Lanka, on February 9th 2010, was so extreme that she stumbled into the path of a truck as she walked to her accommodation after a 39 hour shift. She was died of her injuries.

Furthermore, the report uncovered serious allegations of sexual harassment, rape and even the death of some workers who could not sustain the level of work required of them. With young children at home dependent on the wages the women earned many will endure these conditions to ensure the survival of their families. But exploiting women’s human wish to feed their children should not be part of any modern day manufacturing process. It’s a return to the worst conditions of the early Industrial Revolution. 
Who Is To Blame?

Who is in charge of this operation in Jordan and responsible for the conditions? Mr. Anup Sharma, is the head manager for both IBG factories.  Mr. Ahamed Khan is the logistics manager for IBG, and Mr. Arlok is another manager. The women suffering under their regime are mainly between the ages of 18 and 30. NCL produced evidence that the major producer in IBG factory 1 is Nygard, with its Alia, TanJay and Investments (Slim Fx) clothing lines being produced there.

Under the management regime of these men, young women are docked two days wages if they miss a shift for whatever reason. The wages themselves are pitiful, falling far below the legal rates demanded by Jordanian labor laws. How can a company whose owner is worth $817 million not afford to pay its workers a legal wage? Managers at these companies manage to evade responsibility for the workers in their care, some of them little more than children themselves. NCL believes it is time to name and shame those whose actions have led to human right violations.

Filthy Living Conditions

When the workers have finished these exhausting shifts they must walk for half and hour to reach their dormitories for their permitted 5½ sleep. It is a dangerous journey down a busy unmade road, and transport for them has been refused by management. Their accommodation can only be described as ‘unfit for human habitation’. Filthy, infested with insects, vermin and bed-bugs, with no heating and only sporadic access to water for a few hours a day, the women somehow attempt to survive in these conditions.

Peter Nygård’s IBG sweatshops are owned by G4S, the world's largest security service company. At no time have any employees stepped in to try and protect these vulnerable women, who can be paid as little as 9 cents for making a pair of pants which will sell in stores for $38. The mark ups are astonishing and it is not hard to see how Nygård has made his millions. But what price a clear conscience? How is it possible for a decent man to sleep at night – probably on the world’s best memory foam mattress with silk sheets - knowing that vulnerable women, far from home, are being abused and enslaved like this, in order to drive his profits? The answer is clearly that Nygård simply doesn’t care. If it were not for the work of determined humanitarian campaigners the world would be unaware of these shocking practices.

Indentured Slavery

Not only do workers have to endure these conditions, they have to pay for the privilege too. The report is worth quoting here, on the issue of indentured slavery:

In their home countries, the workers had to pay large amounts of money to local broker agencies to purchase their three-year contracts to work in Jordan.  In the case of Bangladesh, the workers had to pay 120,000 to 160,000 taka --$1,735 to $2,313-to purchase their work contracts.  It may not seem like a lot of money to people in Canada or the U.S., but the average cost of work contracts, $2,024, is more than a year's regular wages in Jordan, which is $1,860.46.  It is common that whole extended families have to go into debt to send a daughter to Jordan.  Interest rates in the informal sector are also extraordinarily high, so there is tremendous pressure on the young workers to toil long hours to pay back these loans.

The IBG guest workers' contracts guaranteed that they would receive free and decent accommodation, food and health care in Jordan.  This turned out to be a lie.
NCL Report, Dirty Clothes, April 2010

Call For Action – Fashion Lovers Unite

Canadians are known for their fairness, gentleness and mild manner. It is no surprise then that campaigners are calling for an end to these practices and are turning the heat up on Nygård personally. With Wal-Mart proposing to expand their production work to the Jordanian factories it is long past time for reform. For Nygård’s operation to pull out now would mean financial ruin for the women workers, who have already suffered enough. Demands are now being made for Nygård to simply do the decent thing – pay a fair (and legal) wage, house his workers in decent conditions, stop the abuse and shorten the hours these modern day slaves are being forced to endure. Action is needed, and we are hopeful that fair-minded Canadians will boycott Nygård’s clothing lines until things improve.

People have attempted to create Facebook groups promoting the boycott of Nygård's products but his lawyers always pull some strings and have the groups deleted.

Why is he covering things up so much unless he has a lot to hide?

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