A sweatshop in the centre of The Hague

By Fleur Ondersteijn, 18 May 2020

As a PR advisor, you sometimes find yourself working on a project that makes you face the facts. The ‘Women Power Fashion’ campaign, initiated by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Mama Cash, is one of those projects. Since yesterday, shoppers in The Hague have been able to come into contact with the driving forces behind their bargain hunt: sweatshops. We recently launched this in the Kalverstraat and now it’s The Hague’s turn.

Every now and again, you hear on the news about the dire situation in factories that manufacture ‘our’ clothes. But be honest, you never really dwell on it. Especially not during the moment suprême: when you’re out shopping. I usually do the same, losing my train of thought while I browse through the clothes on display, shop after shop. If a minor detail is wrong about the stitching, I ask for a discount. I, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, only pay for perfection.

It’s quite a bizarre world we live in, if you think about it. Each button, seam and stitching is made by hand by women who live in distant places. The manufacturing of clothes is still done by hand. And nearly each button, seam and stitching is perfect. Just to think that of the €29 I pay for a t-shirt, only 18 cents find their way to the seamstress. 18 cents!

Where do my clothes come from?

Complaining about imperfect stitching. Where do I find the nerve? It would be a good thing if people are more aware of what’s going on around us and where our clothes come from. I don’t want to point any fingers or turn my back on large chains, but it won’t hurt if I become more aware of where my clothes come from and how little the people who make it are appreciated. That’s why I’m thrilled to work for this campaign.

The simulated sweatshop, which also allows passers-bys to get to work, makes you aware how fast these women work and the perfection of their skills. While they’ve already finished creating 5 t-shirts, I’m still trying to work out one seam. Taking a toilet break whenever you need one? Nope, that’s not an option. Safe working conditions? Don’t even think that someone will make that happen. Being able to take a break after every few hours? Don’t be ridiculous. Nonetheless, they are still able to make perfect garments. For less than nothing. Let’s try to become more aware of that.   

Pop-up sweatshop

A container holding an interactive pop-up sweatshop has been placed in the centre of the shopping area in The Hague, right across from the Bijenkorf and around the corner from the Primark. It’s a theatrical version of a sweatshop where volunteers are working hard. Passers-bys can influence the working conditions of the seamstresses and even have a go themselves. This gives people a clear perception of how clothes are made. We evidently also share how these working conditions can be improved around the globe. The pop-up sweatshop will be open from May 16th till May 21th. Furthermore, various celebrities and politicians will make an appearance throughout the week.

Zehra Kahn, an activist from Pakistan, will also share her own experiences of working in the clothing industry and how she sets out to improve the rights and conditions of women working in sweatshops.

Oh, and this isn’t just some PR chitchat to raise awareness for our client. Pay a visit to the sweatshop in The Hague, then you’ll know exactly what I mean. And let me be honest, I won’t fully change my ways after working on this campaign, but at least it places a spotlight on the dark side of the clothing industry. That’s what sparks all change.