Most American teens spend their afternoons shuttling between sports practice and after school programs. Maybe they work a part-time job at an ice cream shop, or help out in a parent’s store.
Not so their peers in poorer countries. They work long hours at factory jobs, earning negligible pay and risking injury or death in dangerous machinery. People have been protesting the crimes of the fashion industry for decades.
A surprising story in the New York Times Economix blog this week says those garment factories may actually be improving quality of life for the girls they employ.
Bangladesh has one of the lowest wages in the world. Garment workers earn less than $25 a month. In spite of the low wages, girls flock to the city to take these jobs. Their quality of life really does seem to improve.
New research shows that in Bangladesh, a community with a garment factory sees a 6.71% increase in school enrollments for young girls. Young women also marry later, and delay having children. Many earn more than their husbands, and have ambitions of educating their children beyond the education they received.
Similar research shows improved education, delayed marriage and more empowerment about childbearing in India as well.
While these gains are substantial, it’s worth noting that garment workers and labor rights activists in Bangladesh and elsewhere continue to agitate for fair wages and better working conditions. Garment factories are offering some advantages to the towns around them, but that doesn’t mean they’re model citizens in the developing world.