Almost a year ago, we featured a story on Sweatshop, an award-winning Norwegian documentary-style show that sent three fashion-savvy youngsters to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. There, they lived the lives of the city's textile factory workers, and experienced the conditions their clothes were being made in, and the heartbreaking reality of the sweatshop workers who earn below living-wages.
Sleeping on the floor, working for seven hours without a single break, cooking a meal for an entire family on just a few dollars, these young Norwegians experienced it all.
Anniken Jørgensen, a fashion blogger, was among the three sent to Cambodia.
A Plus recently sat down with Jørgensen to talk about her experience on the show.
Anikken, tell us how you initially joined the show? Was it because you — as a fashion blogger — were passionate about the rights of textile workers?
Not at the start. For me, it was a free plane ticket to Asia, really.
The show's producers asked me not to Google anything, so I didn't. I didn't even know where Cambodia was exactly. I was a 17-year-old blonde blogger from Norway who didn't care much about anything.
Then suddenly I found myself sitting in a sweatshop in Cambodia, sewing the same part of a garment for seven hours straight. The whole experience changed me a lot.
What were the conditions like at the sweatshop you were working at?
We worked at a family-owned sweatshop. It employs only 30 people. Other factories that produce garments for mass market labels such as H&M have as many as 4,000 workers crammed together, so this one was considered a "nice" one. But there was nothing nice about it.
The textile workers can't have any water or food with them [so as] not to ruin garments-in-the-making. They sit there for 14 hours straight, doing the same one task over and over, with no food, no water, and they risk getting fired if their bathroom break takes longer than 3 minutes.
All of this to earn $3 a day. It's just inhumane.
What happened after you got back from Cambodia?
After taking a long break from blogging, I finally wrote up a post talking about my experience in Cambodia, calling H&M out and the way they treat their workers. And it just exploded.
As a result, we met up with H&M management and they seemed to be pretty upset with my blog post. Their standpoint is that sweatshops give work to local people. But it's not a compelling argument. The real question here is why can't their Cambodian workers in sweatshops be treated the same way their store employees are treated around the world? Textile workers are not any less of human beings. They should be entitled to earning living-wages.
We see all these stories on TV about people having it real tough, but we don't care. We switch the channel to watch our favorite TV show and eat some popcorn. But when you have a person next to you, you understand that it's a human being. Worth as much as you, your family and your friends. This as real as it gets for this person.
What advice do you have for consumers then?
It's a hard question, and I don't have an exact answer. I'd say, ask where your clothes are made. Pick brands wisely. If you see an article addressing the topic of the inhumane textile industry, get it out there. Share the story. It's only the big brands that can actually change things in the industry, but the push has to come from consumers.
I was really sad when The Balmain x H&M collection came out and all my friends, and fellow bloggers, were excited about it. No one questioned where those clothes were made. This just shows how powerful the industry is. Together, we need to make a push towards change.
The team behind Sweatshop are about to begin shooting the second season of the documentary show, which will air in the spring. This time, however, the angle will be different as Anikken and her fellow Scandinavian bloggers will be coming back as activists, and not tourists.
You can watch the trailer for season 2 below.
You can support their Kickstarter campaign here.