Ethical Style: Are you up for the job?

The life of an average Third World garment factory worker

Picture / AP

Welcome to the Third World garment industry. A job where you’ll start as young as 9, face appalling conditions and earn just enough to hopefully keep a roof over your head and barely make ends meet. As consumers, we don’t often stop to think that the low prices we pay for clothes are directly linked to the low wages and poor working conditions of the people who make them. This week, after speaking to a number of overseas garment factory workers, I discovered this was standard practice. Take a look at what your average garment factory worker endures daily to make some of these clothes. Next time you are shopping, ask yourself: if I’m not prepared to take up the job, why should millions of others?

Fifteen to 17 hours a day, six to seven days a week. You’ll begin at the same time every morning at 7.30 and won’t be allowed to leave until you are finished — which is often around 3am. Don’t expect overtime.

Job Description
Please arrive at the factory on time, even a minute late could result in us docking a day’s pay. The building is illegally constructed on a swamp, and it was  supposed to be only five floors but we thought we would add an extra three... which could explain the significant cracks in the walls and floors. It shouldn’t collapse, but you never really know. We have barely any safety regulations.

You’ll be working in a factory with around 15,000 women — stitching, ironing, sewing, packaging. On each floor there will be 1900 workers; on 19 lanes  of 100 workers each. There’ll be one entrance, one exit. Your job will be to perfectly sew a pocket on to a shirt every 30 seconds; 120 an hour, 1750 in a day.

There will be supervisors patrolling the lanes to monitor your progress, they’ll let you know if one hasn’t passed quality control in output by yelling at you or physically abusing you.

As women make up over 80 per cent of the workforce, sexual harassment is rampant, but we will usually turn a blind eye to it — or fire you if you kick up too much of a fuss.

The air is dusty with lint so you’d be best to wear a mask if you can afford one.

Please be aware, we often have factory fires as we are surrounded with fabric and heavy machinery in cramped conditions. However, most of the time we don’t actually have any fire extinguishers. Hope you’re a fast runner, to beat the other 15,000 workers out the only exit.

You’ll be on the average wage of $12.50 a week, which equals  about  13 cents an hour. Strictly no maternity leave, no sick pay and definitely no holidays. We realise this is under half of what the average worker needs to provide their family with shelter, food and education, but once your children reach 8 years old, you  can send them to work, too, to help your family survive.

Food and Drink
On average, you can  afford to consume only half of the recommended amount of calories a day. Just under a third of your co-workers will be medically underweight and at least 25 per cent of you will be so underweight you would technically be considered the weight of an anorexic in a  First  World country. You’ll have a short lunch break, where you can purchase food from a canteen nearby. It will usually be rice served in a plastic bag. You will often faint, as you’ll be working back-breaking hours and it’s unlikely you’re  meeting your nutritional needs.


Home sweet home is a shack in a slum community with up to 40,000 others. You’ll sleep in a cosy one bedroom home with cement walls and dirt floors where you’ll wash, eat and sleep. You could call it open-plan living, with usually a small sink to  cook and bathe in, complete with a old bed which you’ll share with four or five other workers.

Share this:
New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

Subscribe to E-Newsletter