As Eastern Europe’s garment sector grows, it faces an ageing workforce and struggles to meet regulations
Europe’s garment industry at a glance
Eastern Europe’s economy has grown significantly over the past
decade as many of its countries have joined the European Union. Fair Wear has
an active presence in North Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria. These countries in
particular have felt the benefits of this economic boom, especially within
their garment industries. This growth is expected to continue as more and more
countries move their production from Asia to Eastern Europe. We’re seeing this shift
mainly due to rising prices in Asia and political uncertainty in Egypt and
Syria. While this is good news for the region’s garment industries, these
countries are also faced with ageing workforces as young people leave in large
numbers to pursue better-paying jobs elsewhere.
in Eastern Europe’s garment industry
legislation tends to be stronger across Eastern Europe as compared to other
Fair Wear countries, getting factories to actually meet and follow these
regulations is a major issue. In Bulgaria, a lack of fixed working hours,
excessive overtime without correct compensation and tax evasion are common, while
in Macedonia a lack of effective labour law enforcement, social dialogue and
the right to freedom of association are widespread concerns. Romania also
struggles with these issues, and recent changes in labour legislation have made
it even harder for garment workers to organise. Another big struggle facing
this region is the fight for a living wage. This is especially true in North
Macedonia, where the legal minimum is still way below country benchmarks.
What Fair Wear is doing
Fair Wear has been
active in North Macedonia since 2004 and in Romania and Bulgaria since 2006. In
North Macedonia, 18 Fair Wear member brands source from 44 factories, while in
Romania, 22 Fair Wear member brands source from 65 factories. Finally, in
Bulgaria, there are 19 Fair Wear member brands that source from 38 factories.
The Fair Wear Workplace Education Programme (WEP) is a key part of our work in all of these countries. Through it, training sessions with factory management and workers are held to raise awareness about workers’ rights and the Fair Wear complaints helplines available for workers to voice their concerns. While, so far, the number of complaints in these countries has been low, Fair Wear continues to promote the helplines and workers’ rights to organise so they are empowered to improve their situation. Across this region, our focus remains on increasing wages, ensuring fair working hours and promoting social dialogue. Since 2014, we’ve also been working on dedicated wage projects in North Macedonia with the support of CNV Internationaal, most notable of which is the Living Wage Project. This pilot project looked at how to increase workers’ wages by increasing productivity in factories. The idea was that once factories were able to produce more with less input, money would be freed up that could then be put into workers’ pockets. We used three main tools in this project: our labour-minute costing tool which calculates how much wages need to be raised in a factory in order for workers to earn a living wage and how much extra brands would need to pay to cover these additional costs, a guide on living wage costing and a series of WEP training sessions. The project was considered a success, helping to raise salaries for workers without sacrificing profits for the participating factories. As we move forward, we are applying the lessons learned to more factories in this region and in other Fair Wear countries around the world.
Interested in calculating labour minute value and product costing for this country? Check out our country calculators here.