The clothing industry is a major employer of women

Women's work


On Women’s Day, it seems necessary to write about women in the clothing industry and especially where women are in the most vulnerable position.

The textile industry employs more than 70 million people globally, 85% of whom are women. Industry is a major employer, but by no means on the same scale as a livelihood enabler or a way out of poverty.

In large producing countries, gender inequality is deeply rooted and the weak social position of women hampers their ability and ability to stand up for their rights in working life. Women regularly earn less than men for the same job, and the lower the pay, the higher the proportion of female workers.

The above is not really the cause of the clothing industry when it is underpinned by social inequality. However, the clothing industry can either benefit from the situation, or actively seek to promote better working conditions.

A living wage

Of course, pay has a decisive impact on the lives of employees. However, clothing manufacturers do not have a direct employment relationship with the manufacturers, but the work is subcontracted. Thus, the manufacturer has no direct control over wages; the company cannot dictate, or necessarily even know, the amount of wages a subcontractor pays to its employees.

Here, however, the very simple math applies: when the price of an order is negotiated very low, it is known that the price may not be enough to cover the living wage of the workers.

Living wage refers to earnings that are sufficient for the family's food expenses, housing, clothing, health care, and children's education, as well as enabling small-scale savings.

The general wage level may well be, and often is, lower than the wage sufficient to live on. For example, Bangladeshi seamstresses earn an average of $ 79 a month when the living wage would be $ 214 a month (Source: Fair Trade). There is more to the rule than the exception that this grievance is maintained.

You can get an idea of ​​the extent of the problem, for example, by getting acquainted Fashion Checkerto the site *. Fashion Checker lists a large number of clothing and shoe brands and examines their measures to pay a living wage. 93% of the brands involved cannot verify that the creators of their products are paid a living wage.

Work does not bring security

Although I have been well aware of the pay problems in the clothing industry and the many dangers associated with their jobs, I was surprised to read the Fashion Checker pages to the amount of outright violence that women may experience in their work.

Violence is exacerbated by the severe pressures experienced by production due to, among other things, tight delivery times. In other words, the more and faster we want clothes to be produced, the more difficult it becomes, especially for women who make them. The pressures not only produce stress and overtime, but even escalate into violence or exploitation. As a result, the word "fast fashion" gets an even sadder tone.

Negotiation question?

Why, then, do factories work under such conditions?

It is worth bearing in mind that the other party in the negotiations is companies whose orders are valued at billions. Orders from major brands are vital for producers and competition is fierce. Who can afford to negotiate themselves out of giant brand orders?

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation. In the fast-cycling industry, situations have been experienced in which products already made have not been paid for and the arrival of new orders has stalled. The most vulnerable workers were left unpaid - the majority of whom are women.

When we liked taukoa garment shopping, sewing machines stopped in Bangladesh. It is estimated that more than a million completed the work. The factories were closed as a precaution, but jobs also disappeared because there was no demand for clothing.

-Helsingin sanomat newspaper 4.6.2020

How is the world changing?

So how do you promote women's rights and ethical production in the fashion world? The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is boycotting cheap clothes. However, from a human rights perspective, it is not generally considered to be a very effective means of influencing. And it is true that a boycott will not have a positive effect on anyone's working conditions. He who works in a low-cost factory does not benefit from not buying the garment he makes, on the contrary. 

However, money is what determines the market. If we continue to give our money to fast fashion, what would be the reasons for fast fashion companies to change their operations? No negative publicity matters if it is not also reflected in purchasing behavior and corporate revenue streams. 

So we need both the means to change the current structures and to make the companies that are being made aware of what kind of activity we want to support.

Here are some influencers that everyone can participate in.

Social influence

Labor law and the right to organize and negotiate working conditions are still under construction in many places. In developing countries, workers' rights are best enforced by local unions with the support of international organizations. Organizations have effective means and networks to help the employee side organize, make grievances visible, and put pressure on companies to take practical action. In Finland, trade unions in developing countries are supported by the labor rights human rights organization SASK (Finnish Trade Union Solidarity Center). SASK works not only to support trade unions, but also to increase the role of women in trade union activities and decision-making.

Collective agreements have had an impact on, among other things, occupational safety issues during pregnancy, breastfeedingtaukoand equal pay. With SASK's support, it has been agreed, for example, that there will be separate toilets and access to them often enough, as well as transport to the workplace if the business trip is dangerous for women. The length of maternity leave has been influenced in many places in advocacy work at the national level.


I myself trained as a volunteer SASK ambassador at the beginning of the year, even though I am not a union activist. However, SASK's projects around the world have the most effective impact on the long-term development of social structures.

SASK's operations can be supported through volunteering or with donations.

Affect businesses

Eetti association

Association for Ethical Trade (Ethics) is a non - governmental organization that promotes fair world trade, sustainable production methods and responsible consumption. Eetti does visible work in Finland with various campaigns and, for example, an annual publication that receives a lot of attention Ränkkää Brandevaluation.

Eetti highlights grievances from both Finland and the world and directly identifies companies whose operations have grievances. For example, Ethi campaigned with the Clean Clothes Campaign to put pressure on NBCUniversal after the company failed to pay Myanmar seamstresses the compensation they are legally entitled to. The campaign involved a large number of individuals at Some, who added public pressure to the case. Now the company is inclined to pay compensation.

The case serves as an example to the entire clothing industry. Companies understand that such negligence on the part of employees has a significant brand detriment for them. This in turn reinforces the pressure on companies to take better care of their entire production chains.


If you want to be involved in Eetti’s some activism, you can put a message to them Instagram account through. You'll get a message when you need help with some campaigns.

You can also to become a member of Ethi or support activities with donations.

Clean Clothes Campaign

The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global network that supports workers in the clothing industry and also campaigns effectively in Some, especially on pay issues. Clean Clothes is hastily highlighting international companies that don’t pay enough to live on, or have saved their own leather during a pandemic at the expense of subcontractors. The Clean Clothes Campaign is very knowledgeable and, instead of general campaigning, highlights specific targets and situations where the right to workers is not realized.

Instagram or Facebookaccounts provide up-to-date information and help you participate in your campaign by using campaign theme tags.

Fashion Revolution -clothing revolution

Fashion Revolution is organizing the Clothing Revolution, already familiar to many, known as Who Made My Clothes? campaign. The clothing revolution as a campaign began when the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2014. The accident killed more than 1100 factory workers and injured several thousand more.

The campaign does not target individual companies or grievances, but focuses people on clothing production and encourages dialogue between consumers and businesses. The idea is to ask Who Made My Clothes? or What´s in My Clothes? from a company you would like to hear answers from. The means of influencing this campaign are, for example, an e-mail campaign or a sake campaign.

The clothing revolution will take place around the anniversary of the accident in April.

* Fashion Checker is an EU-funded campaign and part of the rights campaign for the clothing industry Clean Clothes Campaignnetwork.

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