Made in Europe: the ugly truth

A new report published in November 2017 by the Clean Clothes Campaign, Europe's Sweatshops, documents endemic poverty wages and other stark working conditions in the garment and shoe industry throughout Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Despite working overtime, many workers in the Ukraine for example make just EUR 89 a month, where a living wage would have to be five times that much. Among customers of the factories are fashion brands like Benetton, Esprit, GEOX, Triumph and Vera Moda.

For the global fashion brands, the countries in East and South-East Europe are a low wage paradise. Many brands even tout the fact they are “Made in Europe”, suggesting this means 'fair' conditions. In reality, many of the 1.7 million garment workers in the region live in poverty, face perilous work conditions, including forced overtime, and have accumulated significant debts.

These European sweatshops offer cheap, yet experienced and qualified workers. Far too often the monthly wages earned by the mostly women workforce only just meet the legal minimum monthly wages, which vary between 89 EUR in the Ukraine to 374 EUR in Slovakia. An actual living wage, so that a family could pay for basic needs, would need to be about four to five times higher. For instance, this would mean earning around 438 EUR a month in the Ukraine.

The legal minimum wages in the region are actually below the respective official poverty lines and subsistence levels for these countries. The consequences are brutal. “Sometimes, we simply have nothing to eat”, said a woman working in a garment factory in Ukraine. Another worker in Hungary stated, “Our wages are just enough to pay for energy, water and heating bills”.

Interviews with 110 workers in both shoe and garment factories in Hungary, Serbia and Ukraine revealed that many are forced to work overtime just to reach their production targets. Yet even doing this, they hardly make more than the legal minimum wage.

Many of the workers interviewed reported perilous working conditions such as exposure to heat and toxic chemicals, unhygienic conditions, unpaid and illegal forced overtime, and abusive treatment by management. Workers report feeling intimidated, and being under constant threat of termination or relocation.

“When Serbian workers ask why in the heat of summer there is no air-conditioning, why access to drinking water is limited, why they have to work again on a Saturday, the answer is always the same: 'There's the door'.”

It is clear that major international fashion brands are profiting substantially from this low wage system. The factories featured in the report produced for many global brands like Benetton, Esprit, GEOX, Triumph and Vera Moda, amongst others.

The Clean Clothes Campaign calls upon these brands to start paying a living wage, and to work together with their suppliers to eradicate the illegal and inhumane working conditions.

The wage gap in a nutshell

There is a large gap between the legal minimum wages in Eastern/South-Eastern Europe and Turkey, and what a worker would actually need to provide for themselves and their family.

Number in the infograph are in Euro per month

(click for full size)

Country profiles

Made in Europe does not mean Made Fair...

These are poverty wages

2017 Reports:

Europe's Sweatshops

Earlier reporting

Poverty wages for garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey

Clean Clothes Campaign works with garment workers all over the world. While many people are aware of the terrible working conditions and poverty wages that garment workers in Asia receive, they are in fact endemic in the whole global garment industry.

See these earlier reports:

See a documentary with workers from Serbia