Working Hours

Working Hours

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010. 

Unacceptable working conditions are often accompanied by long and unrealistic working hours.  Factory managers often force overtime, particularly when deadlines are imminent.  In many cases, overtime is demanded at the last minute and workers are given no choice; any protest on their part could lead to dismissal.  Long working hours without sufficient breaks can then lead to health problems.  Women in particular, have been reported to struggle with the demands of a stressful factory environment combined with pressures from home; many women working in the garment industry are solely responsible for their families.  Whilst garment workers are attempting to support themselves and their families, stressful conditions are making this task even tougher.

Long working hours and forced overtime are a major concern among garment workers.  Factory managers typically push employees to work between 10 and 12 hours, sometimes 16 to 18 hours a day. When order deadlines loom, working hours get longer.  A seven-day working week is becoming the norm during the peak season, particularly in China, despite limits placed by the law.[/vc_column_text]

We work from 8 am till noon, then have our lunch break. After lunch we work from 1 to 5 pm. We do overtime every day, from 5.30 pm. During the peak season, we work until 2 or 3 am. Although exhausted, we have no choice. We cannot refuse overtime: our basic wage is too low. If we want to rest, our employer forces us to keep working.

 Phan, a 22-year-old machinist in a Thai garment factory


Overtime is usually compulsory. Workers are mostly informed at the last minute that they are expected to work extra hours.  In many instances, workers report being threatened with dismissal and subjected to penalties as well as verbal abuse if they cannot work the additional hours.  One report tells how a Bulgarian factory which supplies European brands imposes fines on those who do not work the overtime required; how Chinese workers were fined RMB 30 (US$ 3.60) for refusing to work overtime; and how workers from three other Chinese factories were prevented from resigning during peak production periods by having several weeks’ wages withheld by management.  Often, workers are not paid the overtime rate stipulated by law.

Long and irregular working hours make it difficult for women to meet the multiple demands made on their time.  The combined pressures of factory work and responsibilities at home often lead to stress-related illnesses, including depression, headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and fatigue.  The push for more flexible working hours and the increase in informal working arrangements are further exacerbating the problem of excessively long working hours.

Why we should learn to love our clothes

Why we should learn to love our clothes

Why we should learn to love our clothes, and how the Six Items Challenge has helped me do exactly that





Guest blog by Helena Lehti


The clothing industry has a massive impact on nature: pesticides from cotton farming, textile dyes ending up in the environment and decomposing textile waste in landfills contaminating groundwater are just some examples. In addition to the ecological harms of the fashion industry, many companies thrive by having a “profit over people” mentality. Most of our clothes nowadays are made in unethical conditions: workers are made to work extremely long hours, often in unsafe buildings, not even earning a living wage. Thinking about all the problems of the modern fashion industry can feel overwhelming, but we as consumers have the power to change this. Fashion should be and can be a positive thing, that makes us feel good about ourselves and the way the clothes were made.

The biggest issue with the way we consume fashion nowadays is how much we consume it and how fast we dispose of it: 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed annually on a global level, and the average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste every year (from: http://truecostmovie.com/learn-more/environmental-impact/). So not only are we making clothes in an extremely harmful way, but we’re making those clothes at an increasing pace and in huge amounts, not even appreciating them and throwing them away after just a couple of wears.

The simplest way to avoid supporting the unsustainable and unethical practices of so many fashion retailers is to learn to appreciate the clothes you already have. By simply reducing how much you buy, you reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. You’re saving your money, your time and the environment at the same time!

There are many benefits to learning to love your clothes: you will feel better about the way you look, if you feel like each piece of clothing you have is important to you and makes you feel good about yourself. Fast fashion advertising tells us to get rid of old trends as soon as new ones come in, but if you only buy clothes that you absolutely adore, you most likely won’t feel the need to get rid of it after only a couple of wears.

The Six Items Challenge has really opened my eyes. I remember when I picked out the six items for the challenge and saw how tiny that pile of clothes was. I was almost terrified: what have I gotten myself into? Is it possible to live with so few clothes? After almost four weeks of the challenge, I can say that it is possible, and it’s surprisingly easy.

Week 2
Week 3

I’ve learnt to love the items I chose for the challenge, and I see them as so much more versatile now than I did before. This challenge has really made me question why I have so many clothes in my wardrobe. I just did a quick inventory of my clothes and I counted that I have around 60 tops and shirts. If I wore all of those evenly throughout the year, I would wear each one only 6 times. And that’s without deducting the days that I wear dresses, and thus don’t need a shirt. No wonder I feel like I barely wear some of my clothes! There aren’t enough days in a year to wear them all more than a couple of times! My only consolation is that almost all of those clothes have been bought second hand, so I haven’t directly contributed to the production of those clothes, but still – what is the function of all those clothes in my closet? If only a portion of the clothes I have are ones that I really enjoy wearing, then what are all those other clothes for? I feel like we’re blind to how many clothes we actually need. Before the Six Items Challenge I thought that wearing only six items for six weeks would be a big struggle, but it really isn’t. I’m just so used to having so many clothes at my disposal and having the possibility to wear a different outfit every single day, that I’ve lost sight of how many items are really necessary.

I consider myself a very conscious consumer, but still modern advertising has affected me and made me think that buying new things will make me feel good. As an ethical fashion consumer I have solved the problem of wanting a lot but not wanting to pollute by buying almost all my clothes second hand. I enjoy shopping and I like the feeling of owning something new (that is, new to me, but already used by someone else), but that feeling is very fleeting. Maybe we should think of alternatives to shopping as a hobby. If you’re in the habit of going shopping with friends just for fun, maybe you can think of other things to do – go for a walk, visit an art gallery, have a cup of fair trade coffee. Spending your money on unsustainable clothes isn’t the most fun you can have with someone.

The Six Items Challenge has taught me to be much more critical of the things I buy. I’ve already noticed that I demand much more from my clothes – if they’re not totally comfortable, good quality or practical, I won’t buy them. I’ve learnt to see clothes more in terms of how well they go with my other clothes, and how well I’ll be able to make outfits out of them. If I find something that looks nice, but it’s difficult to wear with my other clothes, I just won’t be able to wear it that much, so there’s no need to add it to my already superfluous amount of clothes.

There are so many things we can do to update our wardrobe without buying new clothes. The Six Items Challenge has shown me how you can use a small amount of clothes, but still get so many different outfits out of them. So get creative with the way you mix and match your clothes – you may find new combinations that breathe new life to your old pieces. Accessories and little adjustments can make big differences as well. You can alter clothes that you’re considering replacing by making minor adjustments with your sewing machine, you can accessorise with belts to make them fit better, you can re-use fabric for sewing projects, you can dye them… the list is as endless as your imagination.

Since every single one of us buys clothes, every single one of us affects the fashion industry in some way – either you’re supporting mainstream fashion’s way of exploiting workers and making unsustainable fashion, or you’re taking a stand against this by respecting your clothes and where they came from. Every single person’s actions have an effect, so don’t think that your consumer habits won’t make a difference – they do. We don’t need fast fashion if we shop slow.

Traditional over fast fashion flurry

Traditional over fast fashion flurry

Guest blog by Leandra Gebrakedan




When I worked as a manager in a charity shop I noticed a few regular customers buying clothes to put into barrels to send home to Africa. Sending clothing in barrels is a long tradition, as customers pay for the cubic space and not the weight. I wasn’t aware of the scale of second-hand clothes being exported, until I read an article in The Guardian.

The article stated that in February last year the East African Community (EAC), an intergovernmental organisation, proposed a ban on imported used clothes and shoes. Why did they do this? The aim is to encourage local production and development within member countries as – I was surprised to learn – East Africa imported $151m of second-hand clothing in 2015, most of which had been collected by charities and recyclers in Europe and North America.

East Africa imported $151m of second-hand clothing in 2015, most of which had been collected by charities and recyclers in Europe and North America

The EAC suggested phasing out imports in the next three years.

However, the newspaper The East African reports that this depends on the five countries’ heads of states all agreeing to a common industrialisation policy. It adds that the proposal suggests a ban would only come in after an increase in local textile production.

To boost their economy and improve the manufacturing industry, the Tanzanian government have begun massive training of tailors in the country. The training is in anticipation towards the proposed banning of second hand clothes.

Although Ethiopia, where I was born, is not part of the EAC I hope they follow Tanzania’s lead and invest in more people being trained in making traditional clothing. This would be good, as at present traditional clothing in Ethiopia is very expensive and most local people can’t afford it. It is really beautiful, consisting of cotton fabrics with strips of hand-embroidered multi-coloured patterns, worn mainly during special events such as weddings, and referred to as ‘Habesha’ clothing, with some of the priciest garments selling for 15,000 Birr (US$730). The ankle length dress is usually worn by Ethiopian women at formal events. It is made from cotton by specialised weavers.

Having volunteered with Labour Behind the Label, I am fortunate to be aware of the conditions of the garment factories in many developing countries. With a new stream of factories being built outside of Bangladesh following the international outrage of Rana Plaza, some investors moved their factories and manufacturing to East Africa (Ethiopia being my main point of interest, as I was born there).

With more investment in local, traditional clothing, the price will decrease and become more accessible, and with more work opportunities the need to work in the factories will decrease as more women will move from factories and train to become traditional weavers. Another benefit of course is keeping the traditional clothes available for future generations, as they are so beautiful.

The right to dream

The right to dream

The right to dream: homeworkers in the UK and India


Guest blog by Rachel McCarthy


Wednesday, 5:30am. Rose wakes up and makes breakfast for her two young children. Rushing out the door, she walks an hour to work in the rain as she can’t afford the bus fare. And there she sits crouching at the bench, sewing seams for garments at 6p an hour. The men at the factory earn 8p and upwards. After ten hours work, her fingers ache and her head throbs from the noise of the machines. At home after cooking tea, ironing, and seeing her daughters to bed, she finally hits the pillow at 11:30pm, exhausted by the drudgery of the day.

Rose lived in inner city London in the 1970s. Her story is emblematic of women’s lives across the UK. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, with the intention of women and men to be paid equal wages. In reality, though, women endured more years of discrimination and inequality.


Female factory workers in the 1970s 


I visited the exhibition Women and Work at the Tate Modern, which uncovered the lives of these invisible women in our country. I was struck by the account of Jean, a factory worker who smuggled bread into her stockings. Jean felt hungry and couldn’t wait until lunch to eat, so she took a bite- but she was caught and fired on the spot. Mary, another woman at the same factory, was found in tears because her weekly wages were docked for no reason, meaning she wouldn’t have enough money to pay her rent. With the help of the union representative, it turned out this was a ‘mistake’ which was corrected.

It’s shocking to think just two generations ago, women in this county- maybe your mother or grandmother- were trampled on in like this every day. Would you put up with it?

The demand for cheap labour didn’t stop there, and it was women who paid the price. Factory owners reacted quickly to the Equal Pay Act, downgrading people’s jobs and forcing women to work from their homes.


Homeworkers (Margaret Harrison, 1977) testifies to the real lives of women in the UK who were paid poverty wages for brands like Debenhams and Dorothy Perkins.


Ordinary women, desperate for work, had no choice but to work at home without legal rights or protection. They became invisible. Their hands were swollen and painful but they couldn’t afford to take time off sick. They got into debt when companies didn’t pay them their wages. They knew they were being exploited, but all the while they kept working and fighting for their children to have a better life.

Today, 40 years later, it is women in Asia who are the homeworkers. The effect of globalisation means that the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged women are now fighting this battle. Supply chains have changed dramatically, but the back-breaking exploitation and discrimination of working women remains. In fact, it’s become much worse.

In Ambur, a dry, dusty town in south India, many Dalit and Muslim women earn a living by stitching uppers on shoes. In the report Stitching Our Shoes- Homeworkers in South India, we found women are paid around 6 rupees a piece. This is about 96 rupees (£1) a day- well below the poverty line. These shoes are sold for between £40 and £100 on our high streets.

Women living in poverty have no choice but to take this work. “Today we may earn 50 rupees but there is no guarantee that we will have an income tomorrow,” says Sumitra, an Indian homeworker. “Those who work in the company have some guarantee for work but we don’t. If we fall sick and cannot work, then the day’s income is lost.”


A female homeworker stiches shoes in south India


Women sit, bent over on the floor for hours on end, repeatedly stitching the thread through the tough leather upper and pulling the needle to the right tension. Runa describes how the “numbness of the hands” means the homeworker “can’t even do the household everyday washing and can’t carry things quickly. So due to all the hand work, she is suffering.”

Workers are provided with the thread to stich the uppers, but they have to buy their own needles, trapping them into a cycle of debt. They suffer from pain in their back, neck and shoulders, and often have problems with their eyesight and chronic headaches.

It’s hard to understand how workers endure these inhumane conditions, day in, day out. But these women are under the thumb of powerful companies and intermediaries, who ruthlessly exploit their cheap labour. “We have nothing,” says Shanti. “That’s why we know this is employer exploitation. We have no other way. That’s why we are involved in this [work]. If I have any other income, definitely I wouldn’t do this.”


A workers’ rights protest in Bangladesh


But these women are not powerless. There are signs that they are beginning to fight back. In the villages surrounding Ambur, small groups of women have started to associate and advocate for better pay. It’s early days, and there is resistance from the powerful intermediaries and some of the workers who are afraid to put themselves forward. We can show our solidarity by demanding that retailers recognise homeworkers in their supply chains. I know there is hope that these women will fight for the rights and dignity they deserve.

I am struck by how the lives of these ordinary women from London and India- Rose, Jean and Mary; Sumitra, Runa and Shanti; are threaded together by shared experiences. Drudgery. Monotony. Broken dreams. But they believe they are better than this. Joining together is a surely the way they can protect and keep themselves strong.

Is the sunshine and beauty of nature only made for the fortunate few, or for all humanity to share?” This was published in Women’s Industrial News in London in 1914, but it echoes true today. All workers, women and men, deserve to earn a living with dignity. We won’t give up the fight. “Yes, it is bread we fight for- but we fight for roses too!


Long Hours Versus Efficiency by Miss Cave for the Industrial Sectional Committee in the Women’s Industrial News, 1914.

Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry by Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt, Mary Kelly 1973-75, an exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Homeworkers by Margaret Harrison 1977, an exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Stitching Our Shoes- Homeworkers in South India a joint report by Homeworkers Worldwide, Labour Behind the Label and Cividep, March 2016.

Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim, 1911.


Compensation agreed for victims of Pakistan factory fire

Compensation agreed for victims of Pakistan factory fire

After four years of campaigning and months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached to pay more than US$5 million in compensation to the survivors and families of workers killed in Pakistan’s worst industrial accident.

On 11 September 2012, more than 250 workers lost their lives and over 50 were injured in a fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi.  Workers burnt to death trapped behind barred windows and locked doors. Others jumped for their lives from the upper floors, sustaining permanent disabilities.

German retailer KiK, Ali Enterprises’ only known buyer, has now agreed to pay an additional US$5.15 million to fund loss of earnings, medical and allied care, and rehabilitation costs to the injured survivors and dependents of those killed in the disaster.

It is a day of respite for the victims’ families as their cries have been heard. We know that our nearest and dearest will never come back, but we hope that this kind of tragedy will never ever happen again. The government, brands and factory owners must seriously observe labour and safety standards in factories.


Saeeda Khatoon, a widow and vice president of Ali Enterprise Factory Fire Affectees Association, who lost her only son in the fire.


Previously KiK paid US$1 million to a relief fund. However, it has taken joint campaigning by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), PILER, IndustriALL Global Union, to which NTUF is affiliated, Clean Clothes Campaign (represented in the UK by Labour Behind the Label) and other allies including UNI Global Union, to secure proper compensation.

The new funding Arrangement follows negotiations facilitated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) between IndustriALL, CCC, and KiK, at the request of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Arrangement is intended to supplement payments due to victims by public social security schemes in Pakistan to meet compensation levels required by ILO Employment Injury Benefits Convention 121. Additional periodical payments to victims are expected to begin in early 2017.

This historic agreement is unprecedented in the context of Pakistan’s labour movement. After four years of struggle the victims of this tragedy get justice and their pain and suffering are acknowledged internationally. We are thankful to IndustriALL and CCC who represented the workers’ case successfully. The ILO has also played a vital role to make this landmark agreement possible. Let it remind us that safety in the workplace is a right, not a privilege.


Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan


Just weeks before the fatal fire, Ali Enterprises received SA 8000 certification from the auditing firm Social Accountability International, meaning it had purportedly met international standards in nine areas, including health and safety. The ensuing tragedy underlines the failure of social auditing models and raises serious concerns about the standard of safety inspections in Pakistan as well as the implementation of labour laws and building safety codes.

Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign stated: “We very much welcome KIK’s recognition of its duty to provide remedy. This Arrangement is an excellent example of how buyers can and should take responsibility for workplace related deaths and injuries in their supply chain, especially in countries where workplaces are known to be unsafe. Garment workers in Pakistan continue to be at risk. All buyers must now focus on ensuring that proper and effective due diligence and remediation measures are put in place in order to prevent terrible incidents like these in the future.”

The Arrangement is the third in a line of compensation agreements negotiated by the labour movement following large-scale disasters in the garment industry at Tazreen fashions in 2012 and Rana Plaza in 2013, both in Bangladesh.

Summary of compensation agreement

  • The US$5.15 million to be funded by KiK will include a US$250,000 margin for a fluctuation in costs, meaning that US$4.9 million will go to the affected families and survivors.
  •    The implementation, administration and governance of the Arrangement will be developed in a process facilitated by the ILO. It will involve close consultation with relevant constituents and stakeholders, as well as a supervisory role for the Sindh High Court.
  •     In total, the Arrangement will provide US$6.6 million for the compensation process, with US$5.9 being provided by KiK and US$700,000 being funded by Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI).
  •     Claimants will be paid a monthly pension. The amount will differ according to the individual’s financial situation and number of dependents.
  •     The pensions will be not at living wage levels, as the international standards for workplace injury are based on actual wages earned. In the Ali Enterprises Arrangement however the proxy used for the actual earned wages is generous and pensions are indexed to meet the inflation rate.
  •     The Arrangement does not cover damages for pain and suffering.