Serbian textile industry: Paradise for investors, hell for workers

A hundred thousand Serbian workers are paid pittance to sew clothes for large European companies. Foreign investors are usually granted state subsidies, while the government is turning a blind eye to their law-breaking – reports Deutsche Welle on the basis of the report compiled by Clean Clothes Campaign.

Low salaries, unpaid overtime, stuffy production halls, aggressive bosses, holiday and annual leave treated as a luxury – these are the conditions in the textile and footwear industry in Serbia. On the other hand, there is a state that is subsidizing foreign investors left and right, while the workers’ rights are being violated. This is according to Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), a prominent international organization that is campaigning for better working conditions in the textile industry around the world.

The Serbian clothes and footwear industry employs around 100,000 workers, and over a half of them are unregistered.

“The town of Novi Pazar is the perfect example of this. The town is known for its big denim production and most of the workers here are unregistered”, the report’s authors say.

80% of the Serbian clothes and footwear production is set for export, which, at first glance, seems like an excellent result. Over 37% of the produced clothes and footwear is exported to Italy, 13% in Germany and around 10% to Russia. However, the problem lies in the fact that these manufacturers implement the so-called Outward Processing Trade system, which is generously supported by the EU, which entails EU countries exporting their raw materials and semi-products to countries like Serbia where final processing is cheap. After that, finished products are imported back by the said EU countries.

Interviews with 110 workers in both shoe and garment factories in Hungary, Serbia and Ukraine revealed that many are forced to work overtime just to reach their production targets. Yet even doing this, they hardly make more than the legal minimum wage.

Many of the workers interviewed reported perilous working conditions such as exposure to heat and toxic chemicals, unhygienic conditions, unpaid and illegal forced overtime, and abusive treatment by management. Workers report feeling intimidated, and being under constant threat of termination or relocation.

“When Serbian workers ask why in the heat of summer there is no air-conditioning, why access to drinking water is limited, why they have to

It is clear that major international fashion brands are profiting substantially from this low wage system. The factories featured in the report produced for many global brands like Benetton, Esprit, GEOX, Triumph and Vera Moda, amongt others.

Interviewed workers reported net wages (including overtime and allowances) ranging from RSD 25,000 to 36,000, on average RSD 30,000/EUR 248 Workers interviews suggest a monthly overtime around 32 hours (the legal maximum per week is 8 hrs + a 26% overtime premium). When calculated on the basis of 32 hours of overtime per month, which is an average amount of overtime according to workers, not taking meal or transport allowances into consideration, the net base salary within regular working hours without overtime would be approx. RSD 24,4082/EUR 202.

(Nova Ekonomija, Clean Clothes Report 09.11.2017)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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