Women form the overwhelming part of workers in the global garment industry. They are underpaid and face gender-based violence. Yet they are also organising themselves, letting their voices be heard and taking the lead in changing their situation.

The problem

An estimated 40 million workers power the global garment industry, generating its billions of profit. Eighty percent of these workers are female, and this is not a coincidence, but part of a wider integrated business practice creating obstacles for workers to realise their basic rights at work. The industry is notorious for its less-than-decent working conditions, with low wages, forced overtime and unsafe working conditions. In the factories where major brands buy the clothes they sell, women are often deprived of maternity leave, child care and safe travel to work. These structural violations are compounded by the prevalence of gender based violence.


Brands choose to source from countries where labor laws are weak, and workers have little opportunities to organise in order to make sure they can enjoy their basic rights. Women bear the burden of domestic work and child care next to their factory job, and often have little time to organise themselves and fights for their rights. Their gendered roles in society make that they have a lot to loose when they voice their dissent. Their lack of ability to organise sometimes reinforces the stereotype of women as docile beings, due to being female. However, the women workers in our network show strong factory workers, going against many of the stereotypes that exist around ideas about their ‘natural’ roles in society. The risks they take are real and the stakes high.

What we do

The CCC network is built to offer direct solidarity to the workers in the factories. We strive to have a network consisting of organised women workers, and the people on the factory floor are leading in decision making around our strategies. One way we do this is by our core work of Urgent Appeals; this means we deliver direct solidarity to the women making our clothes who stand up against the violations of their rights. Within our network, this mutual capacity development leads to a strong network with a clear voice for women workers.

In June 2019, after years of campaigning by some of our partners, the International Labour Organisation passed the historic treaty to reduce workplace harassment. This is the first international standard specifically aimed at addressing these issues in the workplace and our network will push governments and brands to make sure it gets implemented.

Freedom of association, the right to bargain, and the rights to organise are pivotal stepping stones for women to realise their rights. Clean Clothes Campaign lobbies and advocates towards brands, governments and other stakeholders to ensure these basic human rights, and make sure they don’t get forgotten when we talk about a sustainable garment industry.

Quote:

Women can be made to dance like puppets, but men cannot be abused in the same way. The owners do not care if we ask for something, but demands raised by the men must be given some consideration. So they do not employ male workers

Female, Bangladeshi factory worker

Background

The vast majority of garment workers – approximately 80% – are women. This is not by chance, but the result of discriminatory practices from start to finish. Women are desirable in the garment industry because employers take advantage of cultural stereotypes – to which women are often obliged to adhere – that portrays women as passive and flexible. Productive, reproductive and domestic responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking and childcare constrain women’s ability to seek other types of employments. they just do not have the time or opportunity to improve their working conditions, or even speak out about the abuses they face on a daily basis, making them the ideal employees in management’s eyes.


Gender discrimination runs deep throughout all of the countries in which garments are currently produced. Women are frequently subjected to verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment. They also work under the fear of perhaps being assaulted or raped on their way home from work late at night.