A Norwegian reality show has gone viral, generating interest worldwide in the plight of Cambodian garment workers
It’s 5:30am and Norwegian fashion bloggers Frida Ottesen, 17, Anniken Englund Jørgesen, 18, and Jens Ludvig Hambro Dysand, 20, are waking up for work.
None got much sleep on the concrete floor of their Cambodian host Sokty’s apartment. And now they’re off to the factory to experience first-hand the work behind their wardrobes.
“You sit in the exact same position and do exactly the same all the time for eight hours,” Ottesen says, halfway through the work day. “If this was my regular work, they should have [paid] €20 per hour.”
But the young Norwegians earn a standard wage of $3 for the day’s work, undertaken as part of the five-episode documentary series Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion, filmed in Cambodia last year. Since it was posted earlier this month, the five-episode web series, funded by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.
Director Joakim Kleven, 22, told Post Weekend in an online conversation that the recognition came as a surprise. “We could of course not plan for this worldwide interest that we now see,” Kleven said. “But we knew it had potential ... and then suddenly the series went viral.”
Kleven said the web was a perfect format for the series, which can be watched free. “On TV, it would have been broadcast once and then disappeared in the big black hole of yesterday’s news. But on WebTV we can work slowly step by step and adjust course and angles as time passes.”
The reality-television-style conceit helped Norwegian viewers relate to workers in garment-producing countries, Kleven added.
In the film, the bloggers shed tears as Sokty tells them of how her mother died from malnutrition; how the constant, uncomfortable work brings in barely enough to eat and pay rent; and the misery such hardship breeds.
“The people who use the garments, who buy the products, don’t really understand, and don’t really know what’s happening,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, who has seen the series.
“I believe there will be an impact, and the brands can’t stay quiet anymore, especially H&M.”
The Swedish clothing behemoth declined an on-camera interview for the series, but an H&M statement released to the producers said the fashion brand was the first to launch a concrete plan to enable a living wage through their contractors.
“This program is not representative in relation to H&M’s social responsibility,” part of the statement reads. “Comments give a wrong picture of the work we do around the working and salary conditions at our contractors.”
However, Tola pointed out that under H&M’s plan, salaries would not reach the level of a living wage in Cambodia until 2018.
“Any media that puts pressure, particularly on the brands, is positive,” said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said. “It really depends on whether [brands are] going to release statements ... or if they’re really going to do something.”
Additional reporting by Tat Oudom.