In January 2013, the USW Local 1998 commissioned me to produce a work of art considering the theme of garment workers in tribute to the late Roxana Ng—a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto who passed away on January 12, 2013. I was honoured to receive this task as Professor Ng dedicated more than 25 years of research to the rights of garment workers in Canada. I never had the opportunity to meet Professor Ng, but through conversations with her former colleagues I learned that she had a kind and humble spirit that she dedicated to activism and social justice.
Garment workers typically work from their own homes, making less than minimum wage. In Canada these workers are predominantly women, many of whom are mothers, racialized and often don’t speak English. In fact, Canada’s garment industry is a major employer of immigrant women, predominantly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, representing an estimate of more than 8,000 homeworkers in Toronto alone (Spurgaitis, 2005). They work tireless hours from their basements, making as little as $2 per skirt and $4 per gown, items which can fetch more than $200 retail (Spurgaitis, 2005). Professor Charlene Gannage recollects female garment workers in a Toronto coat workshop, describing the story of the employees, their economic hardships, their gendered experiences of wage labour and family care, and of being relegated to low paying, unskilled work in an ethnic division of labour (Gannage, 1986). Considering these barriers and inequalities, I intend to open up further dialogue and encourage action to change the realities of garment workers, the garment worker-woman-mother being relegated to slavery to make ends meet.
The child in this painting is a symbol of hope, gazing at the viewer and asking us to take responsibility. The child understands that we can all take part in social justice. That as consumers we need to be mindful and question where our products and clothing come from and demand justice, equality and fairness. We are free to make choices; we have the purchasing power. The goal is to end exploitation and demand fair pay, that is, equal pay for equal job. If we want to better society we as consumers must be conscientious, supporting companies that utilize equitable labour practices, and rejecting those that do not. If you would like to learn where your clothes are made, please visit www.free2work.org/
This art work was presented at the Roxana Ng Memorial Symposium, May 28, 2013.
In memory of the late Professor Roxana Ng.
Gannage, C. (1986). Double Day, Double Bind: Women Garment Workers. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1986. Second Edition published in 1990.
Spurgaitis, K. (2005). Fashion Victims. ThisMagazine
Cohen, N. (2005). The women making your clothes aren’t getting paid enough. Eye Weekly