Some days ago I was taken to one of the slums of Ahmedabad to interview parents who bring their children to the SEWA childcare centres. One of the couples visited happened to be garment workers, just like the majority of the people of their community.
We were told that a big percentage of garment workers suffer from serious pulmonary and cardiac conditions as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals and dust found in textiles.
The woman in the picture is 35 years old and a mother of five. She spends around 12 hours a day crouched over her sewing machine. Her two eldest under-aged daughters also help the family make ends meet…..
Her husband, is only 39 and literally brokenhearted: two of his heart valves were destroyed and had to be replaced as a consequence of his working conditions.
It is such a demotivating and hard way to make a living. Workers are deprived of ownership of the final product. Doing piece work of this kind is ungratifying, repetitive, and a grand example of taylorism and the wonders of global economy.
Workers are exploited, squeezed like lemons by giants of the cloth industry. At the same time, an average Swedish person will buy 15 kg of textile per year and throw away 8 kg. Normal?
I know that for the woman in the picture, her sewing machine equals the daily bread for her family. Yet, I am not convinced that I should continue buying clothes that are the fruit of such skewed working relations.
So far, I have been doing minimal shopping in this cradle of cotton textiles, where beautifully printed fabrics and handlooms are on display and sale everywhere for really good prices.
I am thankful of the reminder I got the other day. Now, I am convinced that I want to make informed choices. As much as I can, I will use my purchasing power wisely and explore local initiatives that employ principles of fair and ethical trade.
My objective is not to make you feel guilty by writing this, but rather happy about the fact that you have a choice.
So now it is done – I have ventilated my rage against the machine. Similar feelings anyone?