Did You Make My Jeans?

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Did You Make My Jeans?

When I was in high school and college, Gap was where the popular kids shopped. It’s not that hot now, but about 5-7 years ago, there was a resurgence in “coolness” because of the (RED) campaign. Remember those t-shirts with “inspi(RED)” or “ado(RED)” on them that were a partnership with Bono and supposed to be raising money to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa? So global. So socially conscious. So…

…full of shit.

Oh, Gap–how thou are shown to be a hypocrite! If you want to promote “socially conscious consumerism” why not start by paying better attention to the working conditions of the clothing factories you contract with to produce your clothing?

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights came out this month with a devastating report about the Next Collections Factory, in Bangladesh. About 70% of the factory’s products are for Gap and its subsidiary company, Old Navy. At this factory, workers are forced to put in sometimes more than 100 hours a week, for pennies an hour, and cheated out of their rightful overtime pay. Pregnant women are illegally fired and denied maternity leave and benefits.

Below is the Institute’s executive summary of the report. You can read their full report here.

Next Collections Sweatshop, part of the Ha-Meem Group in Bangladesh

  • The 3,750-worker Next Collections factory in Ashulia, Bangladesh on the outskirts of Dhaka is part of the Ha-Meem Group, Bangladesh’s second largest garment exporter which owns 26 factories and employs over 30,000 workers.
  • At the Next Collections sweatshop, approximately 70 percent of production is for Gap and Old Navy.  Gap is the largest specialty apparel chain in the U.S.
  • Next Collections workers are forced to toil 14- to 17-plus-hour shifts, seven days a week, routinely putting in workweeks of over 100 hours.  Workers are visibly sick and exhausted from the grueling and excessive hours.
  • Workers live in poverty, earning just 20 to 24 cents per hour.
  • Physical punishment and illegal firings are the norm.
  • Pregnant women are illegally terminated and denied their legal paid maternity leave.
  • For the last two-and-a-half years, Gap has been complicit with Next Collections/Ha-Meem Group in a scam to defraud the workers of their legal wages and benefits.

–Management hands out phony pay slips to pretend that Gap is in compliance with legal hours and wages.

–Workers are paid in cash, off the books and cheated of 15 percent of their grueling overtime hours.  At Next Collections alone, workers are being robbed of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and millions if one includes all the factories of the Ha-Meem Group.

  • Workers live in miserable poverty in tiny primitive hovels.  By the third week in a month, most have no money left for food.
  • Bangladesh garment workers continue to be the hardest workers in the world and are also among the poorest.

As I’m writing this, I am wearing jeans I bought last year at Gap. And I can’t help but wonder about the woman or man who made them. Did they lose a child because mom was pregnant and forced to work too many hours and destroyed her health? Did the person who stitched my jeans go home that night agonizing because she had worked a 20-hour shift and still had no money to buy food for her hungry kids?

These jeans cost about what…maybe $60? The person who made my jeans would have to work 250 hours to pay for them. That’s a week and a half if you count by 24-hour days. It’s 12.5 work days at 20 hours a day. (Remember, the person who made my jeans likely was forced to work 20-hour shifts at a time.)

Compare that to an American worker, even one working at minimum wage, who could earn about enough to buy my jeans in ONE 8-hour work day. And living on minimum wage isn’t easy. $60 a day is not even scraping by. Try living on Next Collections wages: TWO BUCKS for an 8-hour day. That’s it. Even given the currency difference in Bangladesh, that is simply not enough.

Gap Factory Worker

Mazharul, did your wife make my jeans?

I look at the photos of the workers on the report’s website. Some of them look like they could be my age, or my daughter’s age. They’re not so different from me. One of them–Mazharul Islam–reported that he was beaten by the factory director for asking for his wife’s paid maternity leave.

Morium Begum, a 20 year old woman working at the factory, was pregnant, sick, and exhausted. The factory management forced her to work over 100 hours in a week. She miscarried her baby as a result. She says in the report, “For me, it was a loss I will never get over.”

Workers at the Next Collections factory

Morium, did you make my jeans?

I could go on and talk about the other workers mentioned in the report, but I’ll let you read their stories on the website instead. But I wish I could tell all those workers two things:

1) I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what you were being put through, the mistreatment you faced, to make my jeans.

2) Thank you. I love my jeans–they fit well and are comfortable. You did a good job. I just wish you hadn’t had to suffer in the process. You deserve better than that.

I can’t bring myself to shop at Gap anymore, now that I know. The problem is, I’m not sure any other retail store is much better. For all I know, my entire outfit today could be a product of exploitation and suffering of other women and men half-way around the globe.

And as much as I’d love to get on my high horse about that, I honestly don’t know what to do. Changing the global textile and fashion industry is so much bigger than just me. But maybe the first step is just knowing. Just taking the time to ask one simple question–

Who made my jeans?

Gap Factory Worker

Did you make my jeans?

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