New Research shows clothing factory workers seriously malnourished

New Research shows clothing factory workers seriously malnourished Image: Heather Stilwell

As London Fashion Week continues to showcase size zero models, Labour Behind the Label's new 'Shop 'til They Drop' report reveals that workers at the other end of the supply chain making clothes sold on the UK highstreet are seriously malnourished and at risk.

The report shows that factory workers in Cambodia consume just 1598 calories a day on average – around half the recommended amount. Body Mass Index (BMI) figures gathered from workers indicate that 33% of garment workers are medically underweight, and 25% seriously so, displaying figures that would be used to diagnose Anorexia over here.

Workers earn just £51 a month as a minimum wage, when the recommended 3000 calorie diet suitable for a 10 hour day of industrial work, would cost £48 a month, leaving just £3 for all other costs – a completely impossible task. A monthly living wage which could support a family, the report indicates, is more like £287.

These findings follow a continuing spate of factory faintings which have plagued the Cambodian garment industry in recent years, where up to 300 workers have been collapsing at one time on factory floors. The findings of this new study underline the fact that there is a baseline of malnutrition across the board which makes workers weak and prone to collapse. Faintings are triggered by a number of factors, but it is this underlying nutritional deficit which leaves workers prone to faint at any time. 

One worker from a factory near Phnom Penh said: “We are constantly at the point of fainting. We are tired and we are weak. It takes only a few small things to make us faint.”

Labour Behind the Label, with our campaign for a living wage for workers in Cambodia, is calling on brands to take this issue seriously. As part of the solution, we are pushing for talks to start about providing free canteen lunches for workers each day to combat the immediate malnutrition issue. “The downward spiral of cheap clothing has led to a situation where the people who make our clothes are paid starvation wages and can't afford to eat or to feed their children. This has to end.” said Anna McMullen, the report's author. “The solution is for a living wage to be paid, but in the mean time, brands and factory owners must look to provide other benefits such as free lunches.”

Tola Mouen, from Community Legal Education Centre in Phnom Penh, who collaborated on the report, said: “Workers are living in conditions of modern-day slavery - handcuffed to the demands of their employers and international clothing giants through poverty wage. Profits continue to increase for brands and manufacturers but each day workers find it more and more difficult to satisfy basic needs. Workers need real and immediate solutions - not more empty promises."

Activists from Labour Behind the Label will be attending London Fashion Week, imitating merchandisers, to give out free packs of nuts bearing messaging about factory workers' being paid peanuts. Watch this space for more news. 

The full report is available to view below. 


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