What is ExChains about?

Garments sold in shops like H&M, Metro, Neckermann, Karstadt Quelle or Otto make a long journey before they end up on display. Workers may have produced cotton fibres in Kenya; other workers may have spun, woven and sewn the garments in factories in Sri Lanka, China or Bangladesh; until they come to be sold by retail workers in Europe.

This ‘Global Garment Factory’ thrives on the exploitation of garment workers in the global south. The workers, mostly young women, are not receiving a living wage, make long hours often working six days a week, are not seldom physically abused, do not have the right to organize… But also garment and retail workers in the north have their problems. For instance, in Germany workers and workers representatives of the cheap-chic clothing company H&M often face aggressive union bashing, and the low wages and exploitative working conditions of retailer Wal-Mart are infamous nowadays.

In 2002 workers from Bangladesh, Germany and Sri Lanka met for the first time at a tie-conference in Germany and discovered that they hardly new anything about each other’s working conditions while they were all working in the same global industry. It was then decided to start an international cooperation with the objective of mutually supporting each other along the subcontracting chain of the textile, garment and retail sector. Since then workers from Mexico joined the network and there are intense contacts with organisations in Turkey and Sweden.

ExChains consists primarily of women workers since they make up the vast majority of workers in the Global Garment Factory and are at the same time underrepresented in the trade union movement. Traditional culture, patriarchy and downright sexism make that women often suffer from physical and emotional abuse on the job as well as in the union, if there is any.

The goal of the project is that young women workers in the garment industry gain control over their own work and lives. Therefore it is crucial for workers to have the right to organize and for women workers to be able to hold leadership positions within their organisations. But also knowledge of the global economy and the role of the garment industry and its workers is essential for the emancipation and liberation of workers.


Women in Senegal

Worker centres

Introduction to ExChains

What is ExChains about?

Who is involved in ExChains?

What have we done?

What can you do?

Do you want to read more?


Globalisation: cheap labour, cheap products
...and women workers

Mexico and the maquiladoras

...and unions

Sri Lanka and the Free Trade Zones

...and workers

Bangladesh and the Free Trade Zones
...and unions

Turkey and the garment industry


Workers in Bangladesh

Workers in Bangladesh