Lucia has something to say

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Pajamas Were In Cambodia

I love Cambodia. I adore the temples at Angkor Wat. Buddhist monks in orange robes wind through stone Khmer complexes. And I like Phnom Penh, but it’s impossible not to see that the country is poor. People waited outside my hotel at the dumpster to pick through tourist trash. There are roads in the city that aren’t paved, and there are many more motorcycles than there are cars.

I wasn’t in Cambodia with my pajamas. They were there without me. They were sewn there. By a woman. In a garment factory. More than 295,000 people are employed in the factories, subcontractors for familiar brand names. Levis are made in Cambodia. And clothes for The Gap, Old Navy, Ann Taylor.

Based on some statistics from the Asian Development Bank, I’d estimate that the cost of making my pajamas in Cambodia was about $8.51.

Here’s how I broke it down:

Materials (flannel, thread, buttons, elastic) $5.53 45%
Labor $1.28 15%
Overhead (factory space, utilities) $1.53 18%
Profit $0.18 2%

An entry level worker makes $45 a month, which, in truth, isn’t bad compared with China or Vietnam. That's $2.25 a day if they're working 5 days a week. They may be working 6. It’s enough for a couple of people to live decently in Phnom Penh. More than the average per capita income which is $380 a year. Most of the garment workers are women. Many who migrated from rural areas to find work. Most have only a primary school education. For every 3 boys that go to secondary school, only one girl goes. There aren’t a lot of job options. Agriculture. The sex industry. The factories.

In school and at home, each of these women learned how to behave through a traditional code of conduct–Srey Chbab. They learned to be quiet. And sweet. And submissive. To be at home when not at school or work. To focus on their husband and their children. When Srey Chbab extends into factories, women become silent about demanding their rights and about reporting abuses.

Sometimes I just like to think about where my clothes came from.


Blogger Girlplustwo said...

Oh, friend.

If there is ever a place that has resonated so loudly and broke my heart repeatedly, it is Cambodia.

We were there long enough to make a friend of sorts, and his wife worked in one of these factories...10 hours a day. She made $30 a month. For 30 days worth of work.

And I thought about how similar she and I probably are on the inside - women, mothers, partners...and how different our realities, in large part, to economics and war.

8:59 PM  
Blogger QT said...

I always read the labels on my clothes - my latest purchase, a dress for the wedding - Surinam.

We have no idea how wealthy we really are until we go outside of this country.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Heather Plett said...

Hey - maybe you could help me. I have to order some promotional material for work (stuff we give to active volunteers, etc. with our logo on it). I pushed our supplier pretty hard to help me come up with some hats and shirts that he can guarantee are ethically produced, but he hasn't been as helpful as I'd like. Any thoughts on specific companies/suppliers (ones that are available in Canada) who might mass produce corporate schwag? You can email me if you want.

10:10 PM  
Blogger karmic said...

Thank you for making us think too, abotu where our clothes come from.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had wondered why Asian sweatshops seemed to be almost exclusively female. Now I know.

I would think that the flip side to a society that teaches women to be submissive would be that men would be taught to protect. Don't Cambodian men feel a chivalrous duty to protect their wives, mothers, and sisters?

(It upset me a dozen years ago when companies started changing the name of the department from "Personnel" to "Human Resources." We changed from being a person to being a commodity. Your post today sort of epitomizes that.)

8:54 AM  
Blogger r said...

I wonder too.

Especially when I see something that was originally priced at a ridiculous amount, say $59 for a tank top, that has then been marked down to $8.

On the one hand, I get excited when I score in finding a deal, then I wonder who's making all the profit? Certainly not the people who actually made the item.

And then I think, I just have far too many clothes.

9:22 AM  
Blogger thailandchani said...

(It upset me a dozen years ago when companies started changing the name of the department from "Personnel" to "Human Resources." We changed from being a person to being a commodity. Your post today sort of epitomizes that.)

Glad someone else mentioned this. It's another one of those word manipulation things that ultimately leads to certain behaviors becoming acceptable.

As for the clothes, I've had some of those concerns since all of my clothes come from SEA. I did find a place to buy where the clothes are made by individual artisans.

It's just good practice.. and the clothes are prettier and better made, too.

Yeah. They're a little more expensive. It still works. I buy two tops instead of three.



10:35 AM  
Blogger OhTheJoys said...

I hope the world takes note - and reacts - like all the eyes of Bayonne focused on the worker.

A girl can dream.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Mona Buonanotte said...

Thanks, Lucia...a very thoughtful post.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Lynnea said...

"I wasn't in Cambodia with my pajamas"

I of course thought this post was going somewhere other than it did. Silly me.

I enjoyed your break down of the costs.

I have a rather controversial comment or question rather. I've wondered, is it better to choose not to buy clothes from those places that pay so little and possibly abuse their employees? Or do I buy knowing that a woman is earning much needed money that keeps her out of the sex industry? I'm just curious what others think or if they've wondered the same thing...

Then of course, I wish I didn't have to wonder things like that. That everyone had a place to work where they are respected and paid well.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Susan as Herself said...

I look at clothing labels too. I love thinking how far something has traveled for me to wear it. And I like thinking that I am wearing something made by a hard working person who is dreaming of something better for themselves...

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why I sleep naked.

No, seriously, great post as usual. . .

10:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've always had the same question as Maggie.

When I got my corporate job and heard about the human resources department, I thought it was a department that provided resources to us humans.
Yup, I'm an idiot.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lucia

This is such a thoughtful post. Thank you for the knowledge, intelligence, compassion and outrage that went into it.

I'm thinking of asking companies to sew huge tags in clothing items...huge enough to fit your post.

2:48 PM  
Blogger gary rith said...

awful....we're lucky here in our standards and expectations, aren't we?

12:25 PM  
Blogger Citymouse said...

such a great post. good to think about these things

10:39 PM  

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