Beyond the Label – ‘Beautiful clothes, ugly reality’

by admin 2 years ago
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Claudio Montesano Casillas, a photographer and filmmaker is documenting the life of Cambodian garment workers in this series ‘Beyond the Label’

Over the last couple of years, human rights organizations and global media have highlighted abuses encountered by workers in the ready made garment industry. Issues such as child labour, modern slavery and bad and unsafe working conditions have propelled into the international spotlight.

Even if media has shown the dark side of the industry, we really do not know much about the people behind our clothes. Very few projects have focused on workers’ daily life and struggles, and very few can answer questions such as what does their life look like?; why are they working in the industry?; what are their dreams?

For more than a year I lived in Bangladesh and spent time documenting the garment industry, but only the informal part of it. However, I also only focused on the bad conditions inside the factories and did not know much about workers’ lives outside.

As a consequence, I decided to collaborate with a Cambodian NGO, Center For Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL) based in Phnom Penh, and pursue a multimedia project with the aim of documenting the life of garment workers through a series of episodes based on themes.

Workers opened up about their life and provided an intimate and different look inside their lives. The workers felt the necessity to take the opportunity to express their concerns, feelings and frustrations about their life. Aspects such as their daily commute from home to work, the struggle to survive on a minimum wage, life in a dormitory and their relationship with their environment are portrayed in the episodes.

According to Mr. Tola Meoun, Director of CENTRAL, the garment sector has experienced a rapid growth since the 1990’s, becoming Cambodia’s main industry today. It accounts for over 80% of all exports and employs around one million workers. This is the main source of paid employment for women and approximately 70% are young females from rural areas with no education, dreaming of a better life.

Most of them started working at the age of 15. Since January 2016, the minimum wage has increased to 140 USD, the only industry in Cambodia with a fixed minimum wage. In most cases workers go beyond 48 hours a week, working 12 hours overtime (2 hours per day) and six days a week leaving little free time. A worker supports on average three to five family members. Indirect discrimination is still prevalent.

Beyond The Label aims to transform the viewer from a passive person to an activist who asks simple questions such as: who made my clothes?; do I feel proud wearing clothes knowing they were made by workers treated fairly?

The viewer will come to understand what it feels like to be at the end of the value chain nowadays.

These videos are the voice of the million workers who produce name-brand clothing sold mainly in the US, Europe and Canada.


Claudio Montesano Casillas is a documentary photographer born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. He established his roots in three separate cultures, Mexican, Italian and Swiss, and he has developed an ability to both recognise and capture the richness of people, cultures and their respective evolution. Currently, he is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. See more at his website, or follow him on Instagram.


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