ZDF documentary: Sew until you collapse?

Provocatively titled “Nähen bis zum Umfallen?” / “Sew until you collapse?” the German public TV channel (ZDF) today at 0.35 showed a 45-minute documentary on working conditions in the Asian garment industry (and on Tuesday a 5-minutes cut from this documentary at 11 pm). The documentary looks at the garment industry in Bangladesh, China and India. It follows internal auditors by Otto and C&A during their work and shows how they check the factories, how they demand code compliance from the factory managers, how they interview workers (which was little convincing) and what problems they are confronted with in their job.

Here is the 5-minute piece from the ZDF Auslandsjournal and here you can stream the full documentary.

Basically, the documentary argues that European companies do a lot to improve working conditions in the factories in Asia (particularly child labour & health & fire safety) and that without their pressure the conditions were much worse. The documentary shows quite well, how difficult it is for the auditors to make factory managers improve the conditions, particularly regarding sub-contractors.

However, the documentary does not mention more deeply rooted issues, e.g.: the problems connected to the prevailing purchasing practices and the conflics with social standards (one auditor only once mentions that buyers are intersted in low prices, while they are intersted in the social standards), living wages or freedom of association. The report also hardly puts the positions of the auditors into contrast with organizations, who oppose them. Interestingly, the only trade unionist quoted in the documentary says that higher minimum wages in Bangladesh would destroy 50% of the industry, an argument that the industry lobby in Bangladesh usually provides.

While the NGO x-mas story reads “boycott” or “only support the ‘good’ companies”, this story suggests a little mixed picture: There are large problems, but German companies are working to improve them: Merry x-mas!

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