clothing industry


clothing industry
Since 1994, China has been the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of textiles and clothing. In 2000, China’s trade volume of textiles and clothing accounted for almost 15 per cent of the world total. This is a figure that is expected to get even larger over coming years as export quotas will have gradually been lifted by 2005 in accordance with WTO protocols. Statistics show that China’s textile and garment industries exported US$52.1 billion worth of products in 2000. Over the past twenty years, garment production in China has increased nearly fifteen-fold, with an annual growth rate of 14.4 per cent. Currently, 45,000 garment businesses in China produce more than 310 articles of clothing per second and make profits of US$60,000 per minute.
The state still runs most clothing companies. However, in the past two decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of joint-venture companies, as well as in the number of Chinese designers venturing in clothing manufacture and entrepreneurs who have hired local designers to develop clothing lines that they sell to local stores. The government has also played a fundamental role in the development of the fashion industry. The China Garment Association and China Garment Designers’ Association organize events such as Fashion Week that attract designers and buyers from both China and abroad. Such events have become media magnets: the annual designer awards night is now featured on prime-time television. Several years ago, only a few dozen journalists turned up at the press centre for China Fashion Week. Last season, the number topped 500.
Foreign investors are multiplying rapidly. High-end Italian designers are prominent in their enthusiasm for the Chinese market. Moschino recently created Moschino Far East, a joint venture with Bluebell, its local partner. Their goal is to increase their business in East Asia by 25 per cent within four years. Moschino already has fifteen retail centres in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and China. Recently they opened two big stores in Shanghai and in Beijing. Italy is also the main importer of shoes into China.
The international clothing industry stands out for its constant global search for the cheapest, most compliant labour force. The apparel industry is now organized into buyer-driven commodity chains. Corporations such as Nike, Reebok, Liz Claiborne and The Gap design and market but do not manufacture the products they sell. Thus, they rely on an intricate network of contractors that perform almost all their specialized tasks. Contractors around the globe with low profit margins engage in fierce competition for contracts with such retailers that tend to prefer to contract in countries, such as China, where independent labour organizing is suppressed by the state.
Millions of rural Chinese women and children are recruited to toil in the nation’s factories making products for Western consumers. Both government officials and foreign factory owners routinely ignore China’s wage, hour, health and safety laws. Employees work twelve-hour days, sometimes seven days a week, and pay can be as low as 12 cents an hour, with wages sometimes withheld for months. The workers are forced to do overtime, adding up to eighty-four-hour work-weeks, sometimes without the legally required overtime premium. There is complete secrecy about how their wages and deductions are calculated. No benefits, even legally required ones, are granted to the workers, who are housed in cramped quarters, ten to twelve people to a room, under twenty-four-hour surveillance of guards. Corporal punishment is common: in the worst factories, workers endure beatings, insults, arbitrary fines for breaking rules, body searches, restricted use of the bathroom and few or no holidays. They are exposed to dangerous chemicals and hazardous working conditions.
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PAOLA ZAMPERINI

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