Greenies calculate “The True Cost” of cheap labor in garment factories

While the Green Band is in full swing working on their Expression Projects, we’ve also continued a part-time exploration of cloth by studying garment workers and factories. Our study of garment workers was inspired by the documentary, “The True Cost,” which we watched the week before Winter Break. This documentary about the clothing industry specifically analyzed the environmental, social, and economic effects of “fast” fashion. The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was a huge focus of the documentary, with footage of the building’s wreckage and interviews with garment workers and the factory owners. Students were outraged to hear the mistreatment and working conditions many garment workers face.

Promotional poster for the “The True Cost”

The week we returned from break, the Greenies started to collect data on where our clothing comes from. Over the course of a week, we checked the tags of our clothing each day and collected data from other bands. We then graphed our data.  We found that China is the biggest manufacturer of our clothes by a long shot, making double of what Vietnam makes, which was the second largest manufacturer on our graph. The Greenies were surprised to find out Bangladesh was not one of the highest places considering we had heard so much about the garment factories there.

Gita, Lucy and Phoebe check out our new Band Space map.

To continue our mathematical analysis of the clothing industry, each child chose one country to calculate the incomes of their garment workers. The countries were Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Based on this slightly dated 2010 article, students took the hourly income of a garment worker from these counties and calculated their daily, weekly, monthly and annual income based on a 10-hour day, 7-day-a-week schedule, which we found is a pretty average schedule. We then graphed their monthly incomes. We found that in general, factories in Latin America paid their garment workers much more than those in Asia. A garment worker in Colombia, which was the highest paying country out of the ones we chose, makes about $325.00/month. We compared this to a garment worker in Bangladesh (the lowest) who makes under $50.00/month.

Our poster showing the monthly income of garment workers in our selected countries.

To wrap up our study of garment workers, the Green Band jigsawed articles taken from the Clean Clothes Campaign website. The Clean Clothes Campaign “is a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.” The articles we read covered topics such as living wages and severance pay, working hours and overtime, unions, health and safety, and gender discrimination. Students split up these articles, practiced their close-reading, highlighting and note-taking skills, and then presented the most important points of the articles to one another (this is what we call jigsawing.) We learned that while the working conditions for garments workers is often horrendous, the workers and their allies are doing what they can to fight and improve the lives.

Notes on the Clean Clothes Campaign articles.