In a new report released on the International Women's Day - March 8, Oxfam focuses on the garment industry, where 80% of manufacturing workers are women while the sector's wages are set too low and labor rights infringements frequently occur.
In the report, entitled "An economy that works for women", Oxfam interviewed women in garment factories in Vietnam and Myanmar, who work 12 hours a day, sometimes 18 hours and through the night, six days a week. Still, they are not earning enough to sustain themselves and their families, the report said.
|Women work at a garment factory in northern Vietnam. Photo by Reuters
Tham, a worker at Tinh Loi factory in the northern province of Hai Duong which produces garments for global brands, earns less than US$1 an hour.
"My working hours and salary are unfair," she was quoted in the Oxfam report as saying. "The thing I find unfair is that with the same amount of work, my salary has decreased."
"We, as workers, cannot do anything to influence management. In case of urgent orders and difficulties the overtime and salary are decided by management," she said.
At the same time, the industry generates large profits for some of the richest people in the world, the report said.
It named Amancio Ortega, the world’s second richest man, who earns around US$1.16 billion from annual share dividends from the parent company of fashion chain Zara. Stefan Persson, a major shareholder in H&M and ranked 32 in the Forbes list of the world's richest people, received nearly US$700 million in share dividends last year, the report said.
Although not directly connected to the factory where Tham works, “this shows the stark inequality in the industry,” Oxfam said.
“We highly recommend governments and businesses to address the quality and security of women’s economic opportunities,” Babeth Ngoc Han Lefur, director of Oxfam in Vietnam, said in a statement.
She said women must be ensured fair income, secure contracts and safe working conditions.
Women’s voices should be better supported, and there should be policies to recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, Lefur added.
The report showed that women worldwide carry out between two and 10 times more unpaid care work than men. This work is worth US$10 trillion to the global economy each year, equivalent to more than an eighth of the world’s entire GDP, it said.