Transform Trade, formerly known as Traidcraft Exchange, is the campaigning arm of what was Traidcraft, one of the first Fair Trade trading organisations. This article exposes the hazardous working conditions, where textile workers are exposed to the threat of tiny particles of dust.
Polyester fibres brushed off lengths of material – or shaken loose from heaps of clothing – can cause Byssinosis, the medical term for the impact that inhaling fabric fibres has on human lungs. Historically, we’ve seen and studied it in the Global North – it was one of the biggest killers of mill workers during the Industrial Revolution. But it didn’t disappear, it was just outsourced across the world.
And while large garment factories clean daily to prevent dust build-up, when homeworkers clean they don’t get paid. When they don’t get paid, they often struggle to eat.
Just one of many sacrifices women make to support their families. But this Christmas we can change things for the better. In Tamil Nadu, homeworker Suriya took a photograph of her friend (pictured above):
“Sumathi is working in a factory where raw cotton is made into ropes or bundles. It was hard for me to stay there while taking the photographs as the process creates a lot of dust, but Sumathi is going about her work without even wearing a mask.”Suriya
It’s just seen as part of the job. As informal workers, whose existence is denied by the fashion brands who order the clothes they make, homeworkers have no rights to health and safety equipment.
Suriya continues, “We should wear masks, but we don’t get given these and have to buy them.”
Low wages make buying the right equipment all but impossible.
Homeworkers shouldn’t have to choose between earning a living and caring for their health. Donate today and support homeworkers like Suriya.
This Christmas, we’re supporting homeworkers like Suriya and Sumathi to demand recognition as workers – so they can access basic health and safety protections like masks and clean working areas.
With a fair rate of pay, the pressure to produce lessens and homeworkers can prioritise their own safety.
This week, the BBC’s Panorama exposed unacceptable practices by buyers from the fast fashion giant, BooHoo. But this story is just one example of a wider trend. Unacceptably low wages and poor working conditions are rife in clothing supply chains. For fashion’s unseen workers, things are even harder.
Clothing at Christmas should not have such a terrible human cost… but together we can support homeworkers as they demand change.
A personal note from our Editor-in-Chief:
Some years ago, when I worked in Leicester for the Industrial Language Unit, teaching English to new migrants, safety at work was an important topic. Most of the students aspired to do home-working which was easiest to fit around childcare. The system was well-organised with agents bringing piece-work (the cutting done already) to the homes that had invested in or hired an industrial sewing machine. Pay per piece was low. The cost of electricity was not taken into account. Even though the cutting is already done, any machine sewing will always produce fragments of fibre, especially from loose and fluffy fabrics. These need sweeping up, a task often done by children at home. Judging by what reached the press about Boo-hoo contracts in Leicester last year, I do not think much has changed.Charlotte Mbali, Editor-in-Chief, Kent and Surrey Bylines