sweatshop

Work in Progress

 

Since November 1992, Tanya Ury has been collecting her hair, from natural hair loss daily, and saving it in small plastic sachets (90mm x 115mm), with a handwritten date label. Previously, some of these bags were sewn together by her, to make large plastic sheets resembling “shower curtains”, one curtain each year, for the installation Golden Showers 1993-99. Who's Boss: Hair Shirt is made from plastic bags with hair from Ury's collection. It is an unlikely and unpractical article of clothing - something between being a shower curtain and the contents of a mattress (under Hitler's dictatorship, the Nazis collected shorn hair of women concentration camp inmates to be used for mattress stuffing). It is also a German Luftwaffe coat prototype that bears a resemblance to the Hugo Boss 1998-99 winter fashion model, or it is literally a hair shirt (word-play in English, for 'hair shirt' is the demonstration of atonement).

 

The fact that one of the world's most renowned fashion houses Hugo Boss owes its initial success to its support of the Fascist war machine, and its exploitation of forced labourers during the war years raises profound questions surrounding the relationships between fashion and military fashion, fashion and politics.

 

A Hair Shirt Army has been produced out of the remaining plastic bags with hair from Ury's collection.

 

A project that Ury would like to realise in the future, which corresponds to the processing of personally generated material for a liminal archive, is the manufacturing of a different sort of article of clothing, to be prepared with two layers of plastic sheeting sewn together that contain Ury’s hair, collected after many visits to the hairdresser over the years. sweatshop would consist of dress designs taken from period piece sewing patterns from the 70’s and 80’s; it would draw attention to the current sweatshop activities of the Hugo Boss Company in Bangladesh, so delineating a parallel between their exploitative activities before and during the Second World War, when they employed forced labour but also currently, by the same company.

 

Gisela Burkhardt has researched into the present-day sweatshop practices of the Hugo Boss Company for a book: “Todschick. Edle Labels, billige Mode – unmenschlich produziert.” (Dead Chic, Premium Labels, Cheap Fashion – Inhumanly Produced.

 

BZ: In your book you describe the working day of a 23-year-old seamstress, who works for Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger in Chittagong. What was her day like?

Burckhardt: This seamstress would get up early, cook for her little daughter and take her to school. She would then go to the factory, where her work starts at 8 am. A normal working day, including overtime would end at 7 pm but sometimes the shift wouldn’t end until 9 pm or even later. These are very difficult conditions for a single mother. In fact, you might call this forced labour - because the women have to work overtime - if they don’t, they risk losing their jobs. Secondly, the income is so low that the employees can’t make ends meet without doing a great deal of overtime.

BZ: According to accepted international conventions, employees shouldn’t work more than 60 hours per week. Is this limit being adhered to in the fabrication of Hugo Boss products?

Burckhardt: No, we have ascertained that seamstresses, even with Boss subcontractors were working in the factory for 70 or 80 hours a week.

BZ: Is this wage enough for a tolerable standard of life?

Burckhardt: The minimum wage in Bangladesh was the equivalent of 30 Euros per month, last year – well, they earn scarcely 50 Euros. The workers need half of these earnings to pay the rent. The rest isn’t enough for basic necessities. The local Trade Union specifies that to feed a family the wage would have to be at least double the amount.

BZ: Hugo Boss states that you didn’t get in touch with the Company before you published your book. Is that true?

Burckhardt: Yes, that’s right. Why should I have got in touch with the Company? My intention was to demonstrate a structural problem. That “it is actually forced labour”.1

 

1 BZ-INTERVIEW (Hannah Koch) with the book author Gisela Burckhardt - Todschick. Edle Labels, billige Mode – unmenschlich produziert. Heyne-Verlag – (Dead Chic, Premium Labels, Cheap Fashion – Inhumanly Produced. Publ. Heyne-Verlag), who says: Seamstresses are no better off, even when they are sewing expensive textiles. Monday 9. February 2015, published in the printed version of the Badischen Zeitung (Newspaper) http://www.badische-zeitung.de/nachrichten/wirtschaft/auch-luxus-label-lassen-billig-in-bangladesch-produzieren--print (Translation TU)

BZ: Sie beschreiben in Ihrem Buch den Arbeitstag einer 23-jährigen Näherin, die für Hugo Boss und Tommy Hilfiger in Chittagong arbeitete. Wie sah deren Tag aus?
Burckhardt: Diese Näherin stand früh auf, kochte für die kleine Tochter und brachte sie zur Schule. Dann ging sie in die Fabrik, wo die Arbeit um acht Uhr begann. Ein normaler Arbeitstag inklusive Überstunden dauerte bis 19 Uhr, manchmal war die Schicht aber auch erst um 21 Uhr oder noch später zu Ende. Das sind sehr schwierige Bedingungen für alleinerziehende Mütter. Eigentlich handelt es sich um Zwangsarbeit. Denn die Frauen müssen die Überstunden ableisten. Tun sie es nicht, riskieren sie ihre Arbeitsplätze. Zweitens sind die Löhne so niedrig, dass die Beschäftigten ohne zahlreiche Überstunden nicht über die Runden kommen.
BZ: Mehr als 60 Stunden pro Woche sollen Beschäftigte gültigen internationalen Konventionen zufolge nicht arbeiten. Wird diese Grenze in der Produktion für Hugo Boss eingehalten?
Burckhardt: Nein, wir haben festgestellt, dass Näherinnen auch bei den Boss-Zulieferern 70 oder 80 Stunden wöchentlich in der Fabrik waren.
BZ: Reicht der Lohn dann für ein erträgliches Leben?
Burckhardt: Im vergangenen Jahr betrug der Mindestlohn in Bangladesch umgerechnet 30 Euro pro Monat, nun sind es knapp 50 Euro. Die Hälfte dieser Einkünfte brauchen die Arbeiterinnen für die Miete ihrer Wohnung. Der Rest reicht nur für die Grundbedürfnisse. Die dortige Gewerkschaft sagt, mindestens der doppelte Lohn sei nötig, um eine Familie zu ernähren.
BZ: Hugo Boss erklärt, Sie hätten mit der Firma keinen Kontakt aufgenommen, bevor Sie Ihr Buch veröffentlichten. Stimmt das?
Burckhardt: Ja, das ist richtig. Warum hätte ich die Firma kontaktieren sollen? Mir ging es darum, ein strukturelles Problem aufzuzeigen. "Eigentlich ist es Zwangsarbeit"
BZ-INTERVIEW mit der Buchautorin Gisela Burckhardt, die sagt: Beim Nähen teurer Textilien geht es den Arbeiterinnen nicht besser. Montag 9. Februar 2015, veröffentlicht in der gedruckten Ausgabe der Badischen Zeitung http://www.badische-zeitung.de/nachrichten/wirtschaft/auch-luxus-label-lassen-billig-in-bangladesch-produzieren--print