Bulgaria Is “The Sewing Sweatshop of Europe” - report

Features | June 19, 2014, Thursday // 12:19|  views

Photo: BGNES

New report released by Clean Clothes Campaign shows that garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey are paid poverty wages.

In a new report released on Wednesday by the Clean Clothes Campaign garment workers from 10 countries across Eastern Europe, Bulgaria included, have shared their stories to raise awareness of the poverty wages and shocking working conditions they endure to produce clothes for some of the biggest brands across Europe - including Hugo Boss, Zara and H&M. 

The report shows that poverty pay is endemic across the garment industry and that the idea of "Made in Europe" or more expensive clothing being made in better conditions is just a myth. 

In the report Bulgaria is called “sewing sweatshop for Europe”. According to it, the garment industry is a major employer and exporter in Bulgaria. 

The  biggest export markets for garments “Made in Bulgaria” are Germany and Italy with about 25% each, followed by Greece.

The clothing brands, for which the interviewed factory workers sew garments are Zara, Levi’s, H&M, S.Oliver, oTTo,  Max Mara, Calvin Klein, Cerruti, Peter Luft, mS mode, Tom Tailor, Lee, Benetton, Massimo Dutti, to name a few.

About 100 000 people work in the garment industry in registered employment. In addition to this, an estimated 50 000 workers work under semi-formal or informal conditions with no labour contracts or with contracts that do not reflect the real employment in terms of working hours and wages, without social insurance protection and without any employment security. These workers may work in factories or at home. In many areas of the country, garment manufacturing is the only job opportunity. 

Women make up 86% of the workforce. The industry is concentrated in the south west and southern central regions. More than 80% of the garment companies are owned by Bulgarians. 

Garments are exported under the Outward Processing Trade scheme (“Ishleme”/ “Lohn”-System) and subcontracted by Turkish, Greek and Western European buyers. Many major European brands and retailers sell garments produced in Bulgaria.

While the sector carries a high weight for the national economy in terms of employment and exports and it supplies most European fashion brands, it is unable to lift its 150 000 workers out of poverty. 

The approximately 30 000 home-based workers in the sector are particularly vulnerable to poverty as well as any kind of abuse and illegal practices. 

According to national statistics, the salaries in the garment industry are the second lowest compared to other sectors - the lowest wage is earned in hotels and catering. 

The garment sector is notorious for violations of the law and for meagre remuneration.

Among the many violations, listed in the Clean Clothes Campaign report, are age arrears and delays, arbitrary quality and disciplinary deductions from wages, frequent violations of the law concerning working hours, breaks and holidays (days-off and holidays taken at a time according to supervisor, overtime not voluntary, excessive overtime, no breaks), locking in workers until quotas are fulfilled, releasing seamstresses on forced unpaid leave with orders to work from home, misuse of “part-time employment” (4 hours per day): in reality, workers work full time up to 14 hours a day. Whether an “additional payment” (overtime is paid double rates by law) is made is up to the employer. 

The report found that the monthly wage of interviewed workers varied from EUR 129 to 340, net, including overtime and bonuses. When there are no orders and when workers are sent on leave, wages are sometimes as low as EUR 51 per month. The highest found wage was EUR 340 net and was earned for a working week of 75 hours. A home-based worker earned 307 Euro for a working week of 108 hours (18 hours 6 days a week).

According to the report, an average garment industry worker in Bulgaria covered 21% of the necessary minimum living wage, which for a family of four was calculated at EUR 1022 per month.

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Tags: Clean Clothes Campaign, sweatshop, violations of the law, garment, Hugo Boss, Zara, H&M, Levi’s, S.Oliver, oTTo, Max Mara, Calvin Klein, Cerruti, Peter Luft, mS mode, Tom Tailor, Lee, Benetton, Massimo Dutt


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