Friday 30 January 2015

Life In The Sweatshop

A fascinating web TV show has shown the stark reality of life for Cambodian garment workers to the people who need to see it the most: a group of young fashion bloggers.

The show, Sweatshop: Deadly Fashion, was launched by Norwegian newspaper Afterposten, and took three young fashionistas into the heart of the fashion district in Phnom Peng. Their mission was to work for a month alongside the men and women that make the clothes they write about.

The results were shocking. The Norwegians were confronted with the poverty and grinding hard labour endemic to the sector, and their initially blase attitude was quickly wiped away as they were set to work. As the bloggers realised that the clothes they were making were outside the budget of their new Cambodian friends (at one point, it was estimated that one blouse from Mango would cost a month's rent on the place where they were sleeping) the unfairness of the exploitation sank in.

The show gives us an insight not just into the conditions under which many poor Cambodians have to work, but the attitude that we have towards them. We comfort ourselves into thinking that they're somehow happy with their lot, that living in a shack that you can barely afford to keep is the best that these people can hope for. The bloggers seemed shocked that their host, garment worker Sotky, would aspire to more than that. The hypocrisy seems astonishing, but at the same time the Norwegian kids are only saying out loud the comforting lies that most of us tell in order to feel OK about buying that cheap blouse.

The end of the series shows three young people that are chastened and appalled by the lives of the people they have shared time with. The work is mind-numbingly repetitive and exhausting, the pay laughably minimal. They've seen the other side of the smiling, immaculate face that the fashion world presents to the public... and it's not very pretty.

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