By Nirvana Mujtaba
Rya has been working in the same garment factory in Cambodia for the past four years. Now forty years old, she has been a garment worker since 2007 and knows firsthand the harsh realities that persist under the shadows of glamorous fashion brands.
Her daily routine involves waking up early in the morning, often as early as 5 am, to prepare food for the busy day ahead. She arrives at the factory at 7 am and works for long hours, often without breaks. When asked about how she feels about her work, Rya expressed exhaustion and frustration, adding that she works long hours often without breaks and that the working conditions in the factory are terrible.
Rya works 8 to 10 hours a day and her salary is $262 per month, which isn’t enough to survive. If she works overtime she can make around $354 per month. She will send $197-220 home to her family and keep $131 to pay for everything else – rent, food, utilities. If it turns out not to be enough, she’ll borrow money from others and when her next pay comes, she’ll pay off some debt, send some home and keep little for herself. The cycle keeps repeating.
“We earn so little here compared to other countries. We are all humans; how come we are only scraping by, only able to afford a small rental room to share with others, whereas overseas workers sleep in air-conditioned room.”Rya
Rya, conveys a powerful message for everyone: “I have a message for the young people and students who like to buy these branded goods – to please spare a thought for the workers here who work tirelessly, more than workers in Canada, and for a much lower wage. So, they get to have a much better life than us”.
While workers are kept in poverty, Aritzia gets richer
Rya’s story is a stark reminder of the extreme disparities that exist in the world. A garment worker in Cambodia works tirelessly and, on average, earns poverty wages of only $262 per month, struggling to make ends meet. These poverty wages aren’t enough for them to afford decent housing, nutritious food, utilities, education, transportation, healthcare, childcare and saving for unexpected events. The women who make our clothes must be paid at least a living wage that covers a decent standard of living.
On the flip side of this grim reality, Canadian fashion brand Aritzia soared to new heights last year, boasting a remarkable $2.2 billion in annual net revenue, and shattering its previous sales records.
With an over $700 million increase from the previous year, this explosive growth highlights the company’s financial strength and growing market position. However, this success comes at a cost – a cost borne by the garment workers in Aritzia’s supply chain.
As Aritzia celebrates its financial success, the women who make our clothes in the global South earn between $4-$11 per day. By contrast, Aritzia’s CEO, Jennifer Wong, was paid roughly $1,803 per hour last year. A garment worker in Cambodia, where Aritzia sources many of its products, would need to work full-time for more than three years to earn what Aritzia’s CEO makes in just one day.
The current minimum wage in Cambodia is only 87 percent of what workers should be paid to receive a living wage, which is around $319 per month. By definition, a living wage should be earned in a standard 48-hour working week and be sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for a worker and their family. Fashion brands in Canada need to stop weaving poverty into the clothes that we wear.
Pay inequality isn’t the only problem with Aritzia
Massive pay inequality isn’t the only problem. Aritzia does not publicly disclose crucial information such as their supplier factory names, locations, types of products made, breakdown of the number of workers by gender and other gender identities of their sourcing factories. General information about their supplier countries, as well as the percentage of finished items sourced from each country, isn’t sufficient.
Supply chain transparency is critical for labour and human rights advocates, trade unions and worker representatives, and shows a degree of accountability by major brands and retailers. Brands can benefit from publishing their supplier lists as it allows them to receive timely and credible information from worker representatives which can help mitigate risks of human rights abuse. For instance, if Aritzia discloses its supply chain, workers and their representatives can share timely and credible information with the fashion brand about poverty wages or other labour rights violations.
In our view, Aritzia’s public reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is lacking compared with many of its industry peers.
Here’s a glimpse into Aritzia’s work over the past few years:
Download the full report including research notes below: