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True North Living » Community » It’s Time to Confront the Canadian Fashion Industry’s Startling Secret
Amanda Gomm

Amanda Gomm

Campaigner, Oxfam Canada

Oxfam Canada’s What She Makes campaign is tackling inequality in the fashion industry and urging Canadian brands to pay workers living wages.

In today’s world, would you be able to live on $0.60 an hour? No? Neither can the Bangladeshi women who are making the clothes you’re wearing. Imagine trying to feed yourself or your family on so little. And yet, in stark contrast, it would take just over four days for a top fashion CEO to earn what a Bangladeshi woman working in the garment industry would earn in her entire lifetime.

There’s deep inequality in the fashion industry, and many Canadians are shocked to find out that while companies profit, the workers who make their clothes aren’t paid anything close to a living wage.

Systemic exploitation and widespread poverty wages in the fashion industry are denying the women who make our clothes basic human rights and decent lives, and Canadian brands are part of this problem.

Tackling inequality in the Canadian fashion industry

“What She Makes is a newly-launched campaign from Oxfam Canada that’s seeking to change the practices of big Canadian fashion brands,” says Amanda Gomm, a What She Makes campaigner at Oxfam Canada, one of 21 organizations worldwide that make up Oxfam International. Together they work in more than 90 countries to fight inequality. “Systemic exploitation and widespread poverty wages in the fashion industry are denying the women who make our clothes basic human rights and decent lives, and Canadian brands are part of this problem,” says Gomm.

Oxfam Canada believes that Canadian fashion brands have the potential to be a catalyst for good, and the organization is urging five companies — Joe Fresh, Roots, lululemon, Herschel Supply Co., and Aritzia — to make a commitment to pay the women who make our clothing a living wage.

oxfam average salary infographic

The fashion industry’s gender imbalance

Women are the threads that hold the garment industry together. Approximately 80 percent of garment workers are women. Unfortunately, these women are an especially vulnerable group. They often come from poverty and lack basic education, having done low-skilled work since they were children. The pandemic has only worsened their situation.

“Before the pandemic, I used to get $154,” says 35-year-old garment worker Reshma. “Prices of daily groceries and everything have increased. The money I receive isn’t sufficient to run my family.”

“I feel tired all the time,” says Taslima, 21. “As I cannot afford proper food with my wages, I’m becoming weak. Everything is expensive now, including vegetables and potatoes. Some days I just eat rice with salt.”

Oxfam focuses on promoting the rights of women and girls in its mission to build lasting solutions to poverty and injustice, understanding that ending global poverty begins with women’s rights.

Standing up for Canadian clothing without poverty woven into its fabric

With their influencing power in the garment industry’s buyer’s market, Canadian fashion brands have a responsibility to make a change. We must support ethical fashion — and consumers have a role to play in this, too. When consumers speak up and let their favourite brands know that responsible consumerism matters to them, these companies will be encouraged to change their practices.

The cost shouldn’t be put on consumers, either. Gomm notes that they believe the cost of paying a living wage can be absorbed in the supply chain.

“Even if we’re able to get one or two major fashion retailers to commit, this could affect the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of women and their families,” she adds.

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