Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How much do your bargain jeans really cost?

In the last ten years women’s clothing prices have fallen by a third and the “value” end of the market is now booming. In 2005, £6 billion of clothes sales were in this end of the market. And, one in four of all women’s clothing bought in the UK is bought in Tesco, Asda, Primark or Matalan. In spite of this, only one in ten pounds is actually spent in these stores.

So what is the cost of consumers being offered clothing at such a low price?

Last week Tesco, Primark and Asda were under fire for their use of Bangladeshi factories that pay workers just 5p per hour. While clothing sales were worth £750 million and £2 billion in 2005 for Tesco and George respectively, some of the workers making their garments earned as little as £96 that year.

Granted, the cost of living in such a country is considerably less than living in the UK for example. However, the living wage in Bangladesh is calculated to be a minimum of £22 per month. Those working the EU maximum of 48 hours per week could not hope to make this money. Yet, even those who are working 80-hour weeks, and this is a regular occurrence, still do not make the living wage. Workers can earn as little as £8 per month, while better paid sewing machine operators might receive only £16 per month.

Wages are not the only problem for these workers. Many factories are ‘potential death traps’ containing dangerous machinery and / or toxic chemicals. Stories of factory collapses and fires are not uncommon. In addition, more than 80% of garment workers are women, who often face prejudice and harassment and are rarely given maternity pay.

As consumers, it is hard to ignore the affect that we have had. Pressure for cheaper and cheaper clothes and tomorrow’s designs today has driven the changes in the clothing market. We don’t want to pay £5 for a t-shirt, we want to pay £3, and this has led to these larger chains putting pressure on suppliers to provide garments at lower and lower cost in order to ensure a profit is still made.

A couple of pounds more for a t-shirt wouldn’t make a big difference to us, but it would to those making them. Perhaps we should start using our influence to drive prices up instead of down.

If you would like more information, visit where you can read more about the issue and get involved in the campaign if you wish.



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