Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

How migration is transforming our business

There used to be a simple theory.

Poor countries had lots of people desperate for jobs. Move manufacturing there and they’d be queuing outside the factory before it’d even got built. Sooner or later, they’d get a decent wage, or could earn more down the local outsourced telesales operation. So the factory would up sticks and move to somewhere cheaper.

The reality never worked out that way. But in a world as globalised as ours is now, there really is surprisingly little connection between the state of a country’s economy and labour force availabilty. The past month has thrown up a raft of examples:
– Just under half the 67,000 workers in Mauritius’ surprisingly resilient apparel industry are temporary immigrants – mostly from India and Bangladesh
– When on March 25, Kyung Seung announced it would become the twenty-fiftth apparel factory in Saipan to close since 2005, it threw precisely 13 local residents out of work. The other 141 were all temporary foreign immigrants – almost entirely Chinese
– Bangladeshi temporary emigration is soaring, with 832,000 workers leaving the country for jobs overseas in 2007 against 381,000 in the previous year. A further 159,000 people went abroad in the first two months of the current year compared to 78,000 at the same period in 2007.
– Vietnam’s diplomats in the Middle East are still trying to get to the bottom of the strike by over 200 Vietnamese workers at Jordan’s W+D Apparel Factory.
– And no-one seems to have sorted out the plight of the 250 Filipina workers stranded in Namibia since Malaysia’s Ramatex announced the closure of its Namibian operation.

Not surprisingly, some of the worst accounts of human rights abuses in the past year or two in our industry have cropped up among temporary migrants.

It’s very easy to pontificate about human traffickers, and there can be no doubt some very unpleasant people are making money out of mistreating people thousands of miles from home.

But – and I speak as someone whose grandfather had to travel 5,000 miles to get a job, and then had malaria for the rest of his life – shouldn’t we be more worried about what’s making people leave their homes and cross the world to find jobs most readers of this blog wouldn’t touch with a bargepole?