What can 100 buy in Bangladesh

Fair clothing - what can we do about it?

Higher Working pressure: no time for toilet breaks

In order for us to be able to buy cheap T-shirts, pants and other clothing in Germany, people in the production countries often have to toil under poor working conditions. Most of the clothing that goes over the counter in Germany is made in Asia, especially in China and Bangladesh.

"It is widespread that workers drink very little so that they do not have to go to the toilet. Because that would take time," says Maik Pflaum from the "Christian Initiative Romero" (CIR), one of the supporting organizations involved in the " Campaign for Clean Clothes ".

Most of the around 60 million people employed in the textile industry worldwide work in developing countries. "They would actually need three to four minimum wages to cover the basic needs of their families," said Pflaum.

As a result, many workers would work overtime and work up to 16 hours a day - sometimes all seven days a week. Otherwise their wages would not be enough to pay for rent, food and school attendance for the children. Unions are not welcome in this system.

The West benefits from the suffering of workers

Not only are wages very low in the textile industry, but also the working conditions are extremely poor: Thousands of field workers fall ill every year because pesticides are used in cotton cultivation.

The poison is actually supposed to fight pests, but it also damages the eyes, skin and respiratory tract of workers. Workers who have to give jeans a "used look" by sandblasting are at increased risk of contracting pneumonia.

In addition, many companies save on the construction of their factories: For example, the buildings can have static problems if floors are built without a permit and inferior building materials have been processed. The fire alarm does not work in many places and the emergency exits are rarely fire-proof.

In the past, such problems have already led to serious accidents with numerous deaths: In April 2013, for example, the Rana Plaza textile factory collapsed in Bangladesh. More than 1,000 people died and over 2,000 people were injured. They had mainly produced clothing for European chains such as Primark, Mango and Kik. Since then, stricter safety and health standards have applied, at least in Bangladesh, but they are often still inadequate.

Maik Pflaum criticizes: "The big clothing companies take it with their eyes that people and labor rights are violated. They want to get the maximum profit out of it."

Image cultivation with fair clothing?

But there are also rays of hope: companies like C&A, Otto or Tchibo try to disclose their supply chains. In the production of a piece of clothing, up to 100 work steps are often necessary, from picking the cotton to the finished product. Production facilities anywhere in the world can be involved.

Sustainability managers, for example from Otto, travel around the world several times a year to check the working conditions on site. They not only check whether the workers are paid enough, but also whether there are enough breaks and whether the factories are equipped with sufficient escape routes and fire protection devices.

In the meantime, other companies have also recognized that it is important for the image to advertise with fairly produced products. Some critics doubt that they really care, but rather that they want to present a good image in public.

Small labels often pay attention to fair clothing

In the past few years, many smaller companies have emerged that concentrate on fairly produced fashion. Like the label "Native Souls" in Essen: "If I were to buy cheap things from sweatshops, I could have them much cheaper," says business owner Daniel Schmitz. By sweatshops he means exploitation companies in the textile industry.

Native Souls reveals its entire production route: the owner couple flies every four to five months to the spinning and sewing mill in Sri Lanka to make sure that the conditions are still fair. They also make sure that companies provide toilets, changing and break rooms, free drinking water, and hot lunches.

"Hessnatur" from Butzbach in Hesse acts in a similar way. The fashion brand produces and sells clothing made from natural materials and in 2005 became the first German company to become a member of the "Fair Wear Foundation". Hessnatur is involved in several ecological and social projects, for example the cultivation of organic and fairtrade cotton in Burkina Faso.

The fashion label "Armedangels" from Cologne, which produces clothing from organic or recycled materials, has also been a member of the "Fair Wear Foundation" since 2015.

Seal for fair clothing

Consumers can look out for several seals to ensure fair production conditions for clothing:

The textile seal Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) above all ensures ecological standards such as compliance with environmental criteria. In addition, social criteria must be met. Native Souls, Armedangels and Hessnatur are also GOTS certified.

This is based on the core standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). These include safe and hygienic working conditions, freedom of association and the prohibition of child labor.

The seal "Fairtrade cotton " also guarantees fair working conditions and promotes the switch to organic farming. However, the seal only checks fair working conditions in cotton production. The seal "Fairtrade Textile Production"on the other hand denotes products for which the entire production chain is controlled.

"Green button" - a state textile seal

In September 2019 the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development launched the seal "Green button". This should prove that companies protect the human rights of the producers and comply with environmental and social standards.

But there is also criticism: The "Clean Clothes Campaign" criticizes the fact that it is not clear how the criteria and the evidence are implemented in practice. Because the "Green Button" mostly refers to seals and labels that the companies have given themselves. However, a state seal should be based on independent controls.

In addition, the "Green Button" automatically applies to products made in the European Union (EU), although workers in Bulgaria and Romania are often poorly paid.

As a result of the measures taken as a result of the corona pandemic, suppliers to the textile and clothing industry also fell into a deep crisis. Some clothing companies such as C&A canceled orders already placed worth several hundred million euros and only agreed to pay for these orders after massive public pressure.