What Are the Labor Laws in Romania?
By Ciana Alessi
While unloading shipments of mini skirts, vintage-inspired crochet tops, and paperbag waist pants, I was inevitably faced with my least favorite part of being a self-proclaimed anti-colonialist, feminist and outspoken human rights advocate working at a mainstream clothing store: reading production labels. Although I know the terrible effects of fast fashion on the planet, as well as on the people (mostly women) who are forced to make said clothes in horrific conditions for an entirely unreasonable salary, I can admit that I still sometimes struggle to stick to my ideal ethical consumer lifestyle. In my defense, I’m a fairly broke twentysomething recent graduate with a very nice employee discount. Also, nobody’s perfect, right Hannah Montana? So as I unwrapped admittedly very cute mini skirts from their packaging and saw “Made in Romania” on the inside tag, I had to ask myself, “what are the labor laws in Romania?”
Well apparently, Romania is an interesting start. As far as garment industry employment goes, Romania is a lesser of many evils. Although there is of course no promise of labor laws being enforced in their entirety in all garment factories, Romanian labor laws include three minimum wages, the lowest being a national minimum wage of 1,900 RON or $445 US Dollars (remember this a little farther down the page in comparison to some other countries) and they state that employees “are not allowed to work for more than 48 hours per week including overtime [while] under 18 year- olds are allowed to work for no more than six hours per day and 30 hours a week.” Still conditions are not much different than most garment workers in countries with lower minimum wages. Anonymous Romanian garment workers say they only received their wages every two or three months and refrained from using their identities for fear of losing their jobs.
Vietnam, a new top-runner for the garment industry, is another country I frequently see on labels at work; and it’s one whose monthly minimum wage is not so stellar. (It’s important to note that Vietnam’s minimum wage is set locally by division and not nationally, making it more difficult to enforce.) The monthly minimum wage in Vietnam ranges, but hovers around $150 US Dollars. According to a report published by the Fair Labor Association, most garment factory workers in Vietnam are unable to earn a living wage without working excessive overtime. Not much better than Romania, right?
Then there’s the giant of the garment industry and home to much physical evidence of its failures, Bangladesh, with a monthly minimum wage of 5,300 taka (about $63 US dollars) that is set to increase to 8,000 taka or $95 US dollars. The horrors of Bangladeshi garment factory workers’ conditions are thoroughly outlined in the wonderful documentary The True Cost. This is all to say that the clothing items far too many people are still spending $70+ on only to throw them away next year, or worse, after the next wash, are made at the expense of another person’s wellbeing as a fellow worker and human (while casually spending more than some of these workers make a month, I might add). To make matters even worse, all of this frequently discarded, quickly made clothing is polluting the environment with synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon taking hundreds of years to break down.
Fashion is yet another sector where consumers have all the power, and, therefore, the power to change the way the industry performs. Just like with TV and movies, being our ideal ethical consumer is sometimes not possible. I’m still sometimes going to watch the Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001 episode of 30 Rock just to see Tina Fey crying out of her mouth, and I’m still going to occasionally buy a skirt with my employee discount because I’m budgeting to move but love buying clothes, I’m a human being. You know? But I also buy 90% of my clothes secondhand and shy away from watching shows like 30 Rock and That ‘70s Show as much as possible — it’s all about balance, while being our most reasonably ethical consumer-selves. Even, and especially, post-Earth Day.