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</3 : Less Than Three

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January 17 2014

On Friday morning, Khmer-American artist Kat Eng set up a sewing machine in front of H&M’s Times Square location. The eight-hour performance was a response to the brutal military crackdown of striking garment workers in Cambodia. In early January, 500,000 workers joined a strike to demand a livable wage. Over 400 factories were forced to shut down operation. The government ordered military police fired upon demonstrators, killing five and injuring dozens. In solidarity with the oppressed workers the artist worked the entire day, stitching together 2 and 2/3 actual dollar bills, the daily salary of garment workers.

“</3 is not a campaign for pity or charity. 
It is an act of solidarity with the women who labor under the boot of multinational corporations and their collapsing industrial machines, women who literally create immense value with their own callused hands yet remain in poverty.
It is a message to consumer culture: behind every stitch is a hand, a face, a person.
It is a critique of working class commodification and the brand industrial complex. I am not here to list the names of every corporation engaged in exploitation in Cambodia- though I will. I am here to meet you, the consumer, and to be consumed by you and to rest in the pit of your stomach. To be explicit, to haunt you while you shop.”

Less Than Three is a response to the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) call to a Global Week of Action against Gov’t Crackdown on Cambodian Protesters.

Note: H&M is just one of many corporations that source their goods from Cambodia but has faced increasing scrutiny over scandals in recent years:
Second Cambodian factory collapse injures 23 workers who produce clothes for H&M 

‘Forced overtime’ claim in H&M mass fainting
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2013

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2012

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2011

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2010

Installation - "Lindsay Lohan, My Thighs" - a 6 hour installation in which a couch faces a television with the film 'Mean Girls' on loop. Projected on to the viewers, who are invited to sit, is the film 'The Killing Fields'
Installation – “Lindsay Lohan, My Thighs” – a 6 hour installation in which a couch faces a television with the film ‘Mean Girls’ on loop. Projected on to the viewers, who are invited to sit, is the film ‘The Killing Fields’

2014     2013     2012     2011     2010

Help Send Kat Eng to Interview Frontlines Activists in Cambodia

A road blockade constructed by Areng Valley activists to prevent developers and equipment from entering the area.
A road blockade constructed by Areng Valley activists to prevent developers and equipment from entering the area.

Help send Earth First! Journal‘s Kat Eng to the Areng Valley in the Cardamoms Protected Forest in southwest Cambodia to interview frontline environmental activists about their struggle to protect their home from the Chinese-funded Sinohydro, a hydropower dam that threatens to destroy the pristine ecosystem and displace 1,500 indigenous people. This interview will be featured in the upcoming Brigid 2015 Earth First! Journal. The remote Areng Valley is located in the 400,000-hectare Central Cardamoms Protected Forest, one the country’s last pristine natural forests in Koh Kong province. The valley is home to an ethnic Chong community that has resided in the area for centuries. It also contains the habitats of rare and endangered animal and fish species, including the Asian Arowana, Asian Elephant and Siamese Crocodile (Yeophantong, 2014). Continue reading “Help Send Kat Eng to Interview Frontlines Activists in Cambodia”

Feb 10 #freethe23

February 10: Global day of action to free Cambodian garment workers, called for by IndustriALL

#freethe23

Global unions are mobilizing workers around the world to protest at Cambodian embassies on Monday 10 February to demand the release of 23 activists seized during demonstrations in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in January.

IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the ITUC are garnering international support in solidarity for protestors who were arrested during demonstrations by garment workers for higher wages last month. The call to action to “Free the 23” comes on the eve of a Cambodian court hearing for the workers on 11 February.

The detainees, which include trade union activists and garment workers, were incarcerated after peaceful rallies on 2 and 3 of January were met with brutal force by Cambodian police, which opened fire on demonstrators leaving four people dead and 39 injured.

Unions are being asked to demonstrate outside Cambodian embassies and present a letter to the ambassador condemning the violence against the garment workers and demanding the release of the 23 detainees. The letter also calls on the government to respect the right to freedom of association.

It follows an open letter to the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, from IndustriALL, UNI and ITUC together with 30 of the world’s major clothing brands, including Walmart, Nike and H&M, demanding a thorough investigation into the perpetrators of the killings and appealing to the government to honour its commitment to establish a fair and inclusive process for determining a new minimum wage.

The Cambodian government has so far been unresponsive while the garment manufacturers have taken a confrontational approach to union demands.

The past few months have seen a succession of strikes by Cambodian garment workers seeking to double the industry’s minimum wage to US $160 a month.

Cambodia has more than 500,000 garment workers with textiles making up 80% of the country’s exports. The country’s low wages and government incentives for businesses have seen a boom in the textile industry worth some 5 billion US dollars per year, while living standards for workers have not increased.

Email us for more information on how to join your nearest action: press@industriall-union.org

Download this model letter to present to the Cambodian Ambassador.

Download and print the campaign poster, take it to your protest, and send us the pictures.

Join the petition to support Cambodian garment workers: http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=2129

Response to H&M on “Cheap” and “Ethical” Fashion

H&M Conscious Collection LiesIn response to Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability in her conversation with Reuters, H&M says fashion can be cheap and ethical:

Sustainable industry is an oxymoron. I don’t believe there is an ethical approach to consumption- the global industrial complex depends upon the exploitation of oppressed peoples around the world. H&M’s claim to be a “positive impact” and a welcomed “alternative” is unfounded. While the garment industry perhaps offers more reliable employment, these factories bear no semblance to ideal “democratic” workplaces. If H&M truly cares about workers rights, why don’t they address the striking workers demands?

The problem goes beyond the issue of factory standards. The reason that so many seek employment in these factories is they often have no other choice. In Cambodia, between land grabs, displacement by environmental destruction (damming rivers for hydro-electric power), and the serious deficit of accessible education, many are forced to live in the shadows of cities to either toil through factory life or become prostitutes.

While sourcing products from sweatshop factories around Southeast Asia, white models on a tropical backdrop sell H&M's Conscious Collection: fashion for "conscious customers"
White models on a tropical backdrop sell H&M’s Conscious Collection

Consumerism is an insatiable machine fueled by full-throttle resource extraction. Although H&M is the worlds leading organic cotton buyer, organic cotton only amounts to eight percent of H&M’s total cotton use.

“Cutting water use to grow cotton, improving energy efficiency or using fewer chemicals” means genetically modifying crops grown in massive monocultures, and continuing to use “toxic chemicals that environmentalists say can pollute rivers near factories.”
Green-washed products and fair trade deals are empty corporate promises.

H&M Garment Factory in Cambodia - PHOTO BY AP
H&M Garment Factory in Cambodia – PHOTO BY AP

My politics are hard-line anti-capitalist. There is no solution for this system- buying what we think are ‘socially-conscious clothes’ will not stop the ecological crisis we face. Paying the workers higher wages only further indentures their lives to industrial servitude.

Put yourself in the place of a garment worker- would you want to spend your life toiling for 9-plus hours a day with no way to move forward or work on things you actually care about? Their lives are not their own. This is the true cost of cheap fashion.

The Nation – Steven Hsieh

This Woman Sewed Money Together in Front of H&M to Make You Think About Your Shopping Habits

The Nation Magazine
Steven Hsieh on January 30, 2014 – 10:30 AM ET

Kat Eng

(Photo by Kyle Depew)

On January 17, Khmer-American artist Kat Eng sat for eight hours at the entrance of H&M’s flagship store in Times Square. She hunched over a hand-operated sewing machine, stitching together two and two-thirds dollar bills, the daily wage of a garment worker in Cambodia.

Eng said her performance was a direct response to a bloody crackdown of striking Cambodian workers on January 4, in which military police killed four people and wounded dozens more. She writes on her website, “It is an act of solidarity with the women who labor under the boot of multinational corporations and their collapsing industrial machines, women who literally create immense value with their own callused hands yet remain in poverty.”

READ FULL ARTICLE>>

Al Jazeera America – Renee Lewis

HM Cambodia
On Jan. 17, Brooklyn-based Khmer-American artist Kat Eng, dressed as a factory worker, sat on the sidewalk in front of an H&M retail store — which sources some of its clothing from Cambodian garment factories.Eng sewed dollar bills to bring light to the fact that Cambodian garment workers make less than $3 per day.The activist said her silent performance was also a response to the violent government crackdown on the workers’ protests in early January.“The murder of at least four people was an unacceptable act of state violence, and I personally had to respond,” Eng told Al Jazeera. “What they’re fighting against is a system of exploitation — it’s important to know that their labor, their health and their lives are the real price of cheap clothing.”