Norwegian fashion bloggers get sent to sweatshop

2015-03-30 14:56

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A new five-episode Norweigan reality show, free to watch online, puts three wealthy young fashion bloggers in a Cambodian sweatshop, and film them as they fan themselves against the heat, cry, and lament the general unfairness of the world.

Watch it here:

There is Frida, who shops vintage, Gino Tricot, Fretex and H&M, Ludvig, a twenty-year-old who admits often buys clothes he ends up never wearing, and 17-year old Anniken, who runs one of Norway’s most-read fashion blogs. She says she used to spend about R7 600 a month on clothes, but since she started blogging she gets so many clothes sent to her for free that she doesn’t have to buy them anymore.

The three fresh-faced youth are sent to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where they will work in one of the only sweatshops that permitted filming for the doccie, presumably because it is much better than the average sweatshop in Cambodia.

“There is so much dust here, everything is just dirt,” Anniken says in the tuktuk on their way to a Cambodian market.

“Look there is just a ditch there, no street,” Says Ludvig, confounded that not everything in the world is a slickly-paved highway.

They meet 25-year old Sokty, a typical garment factory worker. She works 7 days a week, an average of 10 hours a day, and earns about R1 485 a month. She sleeps in a room that Frida says is “smaller than our bathroom in Norway.”

The group asks Sokty uncomfortable questions like “did you have any other dreams for your life [other than sewing seams 7 days a week) when you were little?”

“I wanted to be a doctor,” says Sokty, looking as bruised as one would expect from such a question.

On their first day the bloggers are woken up at 5.30am and must spend a typical day working in the garment factory. They sit in a crowded room on stools and must sew the same seam over and over again.

“It’s like an eternal vicious circle, it never stops,” says Frida as she struggles with the sewing machine.

After a lunch of fish, vegetables and rice (they only eat the rice), Frida falls asleep in her chair and Anniken lies on a table, spent.

Later in the series, the group join a session where sweatshop workers share the stories of their lives.

One woman tells them that she has worked in a garment factory for 14 years, and sews the same seam every day. The woman’s mom died of starvation when she was very young.

Anniken just sobs and sobs.”I know that you know your situation is bad, but I don’t think you know how bad it really is,” she tell her.

I have to forgive Anniken, she is 17 after all, but to tell a complete stranger just how dire you think their lives really are, Mac mascara pouring down your perfectly made-up face, is just the height of privilege.

She at least redeems herself further on, owning up to the fact that she did have a sort of xenophobic indifference of the plight of others, but that that has changed.

“I had this idea that so many people around the world are unnecessary. They are nothing and do nothing all their life. But when you start talking to a person, you realise she is just as valuable as you are.”

The series ends with the bloggers promising to share their experience with others, so that more people are aware of how their clothes are made, and that there is a human cost involved.

But it is perhaps Ludvig who sums it up best: “I have learnt that the world is unfair. It is not fair that anybody sits in a factory 12 hours a day, sewing until they pass out from dehydration and hunger. And the truth is: we are rich because they are poor."  Indeed.

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