Daily struggles of low wages and economic uncertainty are given light in female Garment Worker Diaries.

Out of the 41 Million garment jobs around the world, 80% of those jobs are occupied by women. Of those jobs, the lowest incomes are also paid to women. These women are, therefore, working full-time and overtime but still lack enough wages to provide for their families and themselves. The year-long Garment Worker Diaries project gives the most comprehensive picture yet of the living and working conditions faced by female garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India.

Over 12 months, researchers visited 540 workers at their homes to learn about what they earn and buy, how they spend their time each day and what their working conditions are like. It also looked at financial stress and how many workers were cutting back on necessities like food in order to save for emergencies such as medical expenses. This means that their bodies are absorbing the shock of the cut-back, rather than their wallets taking further hits just to be alive.

When asked about their main savings goals, it was revealed that other than the aforementioned emergencies, the financial sacrifices were made in hopes of major life event such as a child’s education, building a house so they could stop paying rent, starting a business or investing in a reliable means of transportation.

The reports highlight that the living and working conditions of garment workers vary greatly across countries:

  • Bangladesh’s workers earned the least per hour of workers in the three countries—about half what the women in the other two countries earned. On average, they worked 60 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 28 taka (the equivalent of 0.95 USD in purchasing power parity). They earned less than the minimum hourly wage 64 per cent of the time and there was significant evidence to suggest that the more they worked the less they earned. Outside of work, men controlled earnings and were spent on basics like food and rent and rarely improved a household’s quality of life.
  • Cambodia’s workers sought overtime hours to boost their incomes, but in many cases were not paid a legal wage for these hours. On average, they worked 48 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 3,500 riels (the equivalent of 2.53 USD in purchasing power parity). Despite earning the minimum wage and supplementing their income with overtime hours, most workers still faced financial strain, and at certain points throughout the year, this resulted in limited access to quality food and medical care.
  • India’s workers – a sample of export-oriented factory employees in the southwest of Bangalore – typically earned the legal minimum wage or higher and paid into pension and state insurance programs. On average, they worked 46 hours a week and earned an hourly rate of 39.68 INR (the equivalent to 2.27 USD in purchasing power parity). They were often exposed to verbal abuse by their supervisors and relied heavily on income from their husbands or other household earners to meet their financial obligations, but lived in comparative comfort to workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia.

The Garment Workers Diaries is a research project led by Microfinance Opportunities in collaboration with Fashion Revolution and supported by C&A Foundation.