But we have it lucky compared to the garment workers of Cambodia. They often have to endure multi-hour journeys to and from their factories in overcrowded and unsafely driven lorries and minibuses. Some women face a two-hour trip each way, with a gruelling twelve-hour shift on top. The maths don't seem to add up–there's no time for family, little time for sleep. But for these workers there is no other choice.
Vice's Poppy McPherson profiles the commuter's journey in an article for Broadly that hammers home just how stark those choices are. It's uncomfortable reading, and highlights the plight of the garment worker as clearly as anything else I've read this year.
It certainly puts our grumbles about the 7:05 to Paddington into perspective. The workers, mostly women, don't get enough to eat and the drivers are reckless to the point of being dangerous–in fact, there are frequent crashes. More than 7,000 workers were injured and 130 killed in 2015 in accidents on the commute run. Sick, dizzy and bounced around on the back of an open-topped truck, the women are also unprotected from the wild extremes of Cambodian weather. The sticky, oppressive heat of April, the brutal downpours of monsoon season–they have to endure it all.
Little wonder, then, that some women choose not to face the journey at all, and stay in dormitories at the factory instead. One worker called Jeang puts it best, saying:
It seems appalling that these women can face up to four hours a day on the trucks on top of a brutal working regime, but the factory owners claim that their responsibilities have been fulfilled. After all, they pay their workers a travel allowance–how they choose to spend it is up to them. This ignores the fact that the buses often cost significantly more than the payment covers, and choices of transport are limited.
"I have elderly parents but I'd better stay alive and send money to them rather than take a risk."
For the women who work in Cambodian garment factories, life is a long grind. Work in the factories is easily found, but is often the only option in a shifting economy for those with little education and plenty of family responsibilities. We talk about their hard life as if it starts and ends at the factory gates. The reality is even more shocking.
I recommend reading and sharing Poppy's post, which shows us a hidden consequence of fast fashion that should encourage us all to do better by the women who make our clothes.