UN Sustainable Development Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

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“To promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.”

Photo by  Steve McCurry  of a woman in Peshawar, Pakistan

Photo by Steve McCurry of a woman in Peshawar, Pakistan

Money is key for survival. For a decent lifestyle, the economic sphere has to transform by providing sustainable jobs and policies alike.  It cannot be acceptable that, “roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about USD $2 a day,” (UN). In different countries around the world, one can encounter entire communities who suffer from poverty and are trapped in places where they can’t prosper. Investing in an idea where everyone can flourish is a pressing matter. So much greed and corruption exists dispersing in a lack of empathy towards underdeveloped countries. This is something we can no longer afford to sustain, as it affects everything from humanity, to the economy, and planet.

Facts by the UN:

  • Men earn 12.5% more than women in 40 out of 45 countries with data.

  • In 2018, the total number of unemployed people remains high - above 192 million - and it is harder to find decent jobs.

  • 30 Million: Number of jobs required every year for new entrants to the labour market to keep up with the growth of the global working age population.


What She Makes

Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In a detailed report by Oxfam Australia, the inside scoop of a garment worker from Bangladesh is revealed. Unsettling facts are written of various women like her. Many who work overtime for a life full of discomfort. Naturally, meals are skipped, living spaces are unbearable, and visits to the doctor are unthinkable. The pay for a garment worker is troublesome as they’re at the bottom of the supply chain, and all the big bucks go to the CEOs of corporate brand names. A hierarchy with bankruptcy at its core where hourly pay is rewarded with cents not dollars. This isn’t even close to basic survival needs. Every 365 days, companies increase their revenue at an exponential rate, which makes one wonder, couldn’t all fashion employees receive an honorable salary then? Oppression in this manner is unacceptable, and poverty wages of this sort are inhuman. Governments, factories, and brands have the power and money to undo this situation. There’s proof that it’s achievable, however, as research shows that, “paying living wages would mean that instead of just 4% on average going to the workers who make our clothes, brands would need to ensure just 5% of the retail price got back to the pockets of garment workers,” (Oxfam). By pressuring companies and allowing more women to articulate their stories like those featured in this article, a radical change can be negotiated. And as we speak up and ask who makes our clothes, are they being paid a living-wage, and demand transparency from brands, we can hold accountable these corporations, pushing them to agree on business deals that are sustainable for the people and economy, so that we can have a future with zero poverty.

Facts by Oxfam:

  • In Bangladesh, the second-largest source country for garments into Australia, it is legal to pay the women who make our clothes as little as 39 cents an hour.

  • Based on CEO pay levels of some of the big brands in Australia, it would take a Bangladeshi garment worker earning the minimum wage more than 4,000 years to earn the same amount that CEOs get paid in just one year.

  • Oxfam argues that there is enough profit and other margins within the supply chains of big brands to mean that they can pay living wages, without creating higher prices for consumers.


Visual by ethical fashion brand  Mate The Label

Visual by ethical fashion brand Mate The Label


Forida

An Excerpt from the Report

Forida makes clothes for Target Australia, H&M and other global brands.

Forida makes 35 cents an hour making our clothes.

Forida is 22 years old. She lives with her husband, a rice miller, and her toddler son in Kallyanpur, a slum area in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She also supports her mother-in-law, who looks after her son while she is at work. Forida and her family have lived in a dark, hot and cramped compound with six other families, including her landlord’s, for three years. There is just one toilet and place to bathe for the whole compound, and two shared cooking areas. Constructed mostly of tin and wood, her living conditions are crowded and rundown. Forida says, “When it rains, there’s a smell in our home.”

Behind the rental property is a big, black polluted pond, which attracts a consistent influx of mosquitos, especially in Forida’s room — half of which is built over the water. This increases her and her family’s risk of exposure to mosquito-borne viral diseases like malaria, dengue fever and Chikungunya.

Towards the end of each month, Forida’s salary runs out and she just eats “old watery rice, with salt and green chili”. If she was paid a living wage, Forida could, “provide food for the last week of the month [and] eat better food like vegetables and meat”.

Each day, like all garment workers, Forida is given a target that she must complete before she can go home. Forida makes shirt collars and has a target of 80 collars per hour for a striped or patterned shirt, and 100 collars per hour for a solid colour shirt. These targets are impossible to finish within regular working hours, so she is forced to work overtime to complete the immense workload. During busier times, when international clothing brands place demanding orders, she might work as late as midnight. Often, she is given no notice of overtime, so cannot make care arrangements for her son. If production targets are not met, 500 taka ($7.70) is deducted from her wages as punishment.

The pressure at work is intense. If she makes any mistakes, she is verbally abused by her supervisor. “I feel embarrassed when I am scolded in front of so many people and then I feel bad about myself because I’m not able to do the work properly. If I could do the work properly, then I wouldn’t be scolded so hard and this makes me cry.”

Forida hopes for more realistic targets and a better wage.


Feel Good Investments

There’s a lot of heartbreak in knowing that this is a situation happening today especially with the knowledge that brands are overflowing with money and can easily provide fair wages to their employees. On the bright side, we as people can sway the way business is done by demanding companies to be more transparent in general. That’s why we have to invest. Invest in human rights, invest in your voice and invest in clothes that will give a respectable pay to workers like Forida. What these women do is admirable and they are full of talent. Recognizing the hands behind our clothes is beautiful and our connection with that can be even stronger. A simple way to do that is through social media. By seeing videos or images of the communities who create what we wear is always uplifting and it creates awareness. One brand that does an exceptional job of this idea is Los Angeles based RAFA USA. They’re a luxury brand specializing in women’s footwear designed with a sustainable mindset and eco-friendly materials. The team consists of 20 artisans and everyone is like a family. There is no hierarchy involved as we can see in the video below. Shots of the shoemakers are captured and one can observe the healthy work environment where talent is fully appreciated. As the founder Taghrid Zorob says in the video, the shoes are “handmade for you, it was made with care, with love”. A true example of how businesses can be ethical and care for their employees simultaneously. As we talk and demand brands to change their ways, the industry will work on reshaping it’s intention and us consumers can make more feel good investments and above all, equal pay for employees will be achieved. So let’s remind ourselves to buy smart and be persistent with companies and their economic means!


Learn More

Read more about SDG 8 here.

Full What She Makes report here.

Check out RAFA here.