Garment workers face forced overtime and poverty wages in Eastern Europe
The assumption that “Made in Europe” or “Made in Italy” equals “fair trade” or “fairly made” is a complete fabrication. The working conditions and below poverty waged in these garment factories are just as endemic as they are in Asia. The continents footwear and clothing industry produces garments in countries like Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Slovakia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where workers often earn even less than their Chinese counterparts.
Clean clothes campaign reports that production sites in Poland and the Czech Republic make clothing for high-end brands like Hugo Boss, Benetton, Reiss and Massimo Dutti but workers just earn the legal minimum wage or less. In 2015 the net minimum wage in Poland was € 312, in the Czech Republic € 390. Workers producing for Calvin Klein, Schießer, Hugo Boss reported to the Clean Clothes Campaign that they would need up to three times this amount to lead a decent live. At the same time some workers reported that they can only reach the legal minimum wage after working overtime hours and these overtime hours would sometimes be enforced and go unpaid for months – if they get paid at all. While this is a violation of the law, the denial of a living wage amounts to a violation of workers’ human right and dignity.
Very little of the profits made in the garment industry trickle down to the workers: “Was it the lack of orders that was the problem? No! We were up to our eyes in work, just as long as we worked without leave, for the lowest wage, did overtime and kept quiet. This hard work made someone very well-off”, says a Polish worker.
Poverty pay is endemic across the garment industry and that the idea of “Made in Europe” or more expensive clothing being made in better conditions is just a myth.