BUENOS AIRES – “No Chains,” an Argentine-Thai clothing brand whose products are free of slave labor, seeks to provide dignified employment for previously exploited workers while encouraging more conscious shopping.
“What if what you wear comes from dignified work?” “No Chains” asks rhetorically on social media in an attempt to raise awareness among consumers.
This international brand, born in 2010 out of a merger of two cooperatives – Argentina’s 20 de diciembre and Thailand’s Dignity Returns – has been championing garment production that is free of slave labor, a crime that persists in the 21st century and which shoppers often support unwittingly.
The two cooperatives linked up after discovering at an International Labour Organization meeting that, despite the geographical gap, they faced similar problems and concerns in their fight against this global scourge.
“We saw that we were engaged in very similar struggles, both in terms of production and advocating for dignified work. So we decided to join together to show that the same things were happening on both sides of the world with respect to reducing worker servitude in the textile industry,” Tamara Rosemberg, one of the driving forces behind “No Chains” in Argentina, told EFE.
The goal is to “create awareness” among both workers and consumers about what’s happening in the sector, “especially in developing countries,” Rosemberg said.
She said that only 20 percent of textile industry workers are formally employed in Argentina.
Many are migrants from vulnerable areas of Argentina’s interior or from neighboring countries who are promised well-paid work but find themselves in precarious situations when they arrive at their destination.
They are expected to work long hours for little pay and their workplaces do not comply with legally established safety and hygiene requirements, Rosemberg said.
Giovanna Rojas, 33, once experienced these abusive conditions first-hand yet managed to forge a new life for herself thanks to “No Chains.”
“I’m Bolivian and in Bolivia you always find recruiters who offer to pay you in dollars. It’s wonderful what they offer you, but it’s very different when you get here,” Rojas told EFE.
“You come to a clandestine workshop where they don’t pay you like they should, they have you working long hours, let’s say seven in the morning until 11 at night,” she said.
A total of 1,531 victims of human trafficking were rescued in Argentina in 2018, 27.5 percent more than the previous year, according to that nation’s Justice Ministry.
Rojas has been working for three months at one of the cooperatives that make up “No Chains” and says her current labor conditions have allowed her to spend more time with her husband and daughters and even begin to study geriatrics.
But getting out is not easy, she says.
“As a migrant, I understand my countrymen when they’re at a clandestine workshop and don’t leave out of fear,” she said. “They feel like no one will help them.”
The goal of this project therefore is to encourage exploited workers to break those chains and provide them an opportunity for a better life.
“‘No Chains’ is something we want to strengthen, that we want to grow, to start competing (in the market); and when you buy (the clothing they produce) you feel good,” Rojas said.
Others see this venture as a viable employment alternative in a time of crisis for Argentina’s textile sector.
The situation in the recession-hit country is “critical,” Rosemberg said, adding that it has been further exacerbated “by a drop in domestic consumption and an influx of imports whose prices are far below even those of the clandestine workshops.”
Despite the difficulties in terms of bridging the geographical divide and overcoming the language barrier, “No Chains” has already launched four collections.
“We believe that the impetus we have among our entrepreneurs and cooperative members is a sign we can make this work by coming together,” Rosemberg said.
In fact, new cooperatives from the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong (China) have joined “No Chains” in recent months, providing work to 70 direct employees.
Around 90 percent of the workers at “No Chains” previously were exploited or subjected to forced labor and are living proof that, despite the efforts of mafias to control people through fear, it is possible to escape.