courtesy of ecouterre
A young blonde woman weeps openly on camera, her manicured fingers perched wanly against her cheekbones. “I can’t take it any more,” she sobs in Norwegian. “What sort of life is this?” Her name is Anniken Jørgensen, one of three 17-year-old fashion bloggers who “star” in a five-part online reality series about the horrors of sweatshop labor in Cambodia. Tapped by Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper, for the social experiment, Jørgensen, along with Frida Ottesen and Ludvig Hambro, flew to the Southeast Asian country’s capital of Phnom Penh, where they experienced a modicum of a Cambodian textile worker’s life for a month in 2014.
As the series proceeds, cracks begin to appear. Hambro is visibly perturbed at an excursion with Sokty to Mango, where a $35 blouse costs more than a month’s worth of rent. “I think it was tough to be at Mango,” Hambro says later. “Those who make the garments should also be able to afford them.”
It’s in Episode 3 that the bloggers report to their first shift at the garment factory. Fatigue, hunger—not to mention the crippling pressure to keep producing—soon set in. The struggle on their faces is plain. “I am so exhausted I don’t know what to say or feel,” Hambro says. Still, he admits the situation in other facilities in Cambodia may, in fact, be worse. “The awful truth is that this is one of the few places the actually let us in,” he says of the factory, which has no toilet paper, a single fan, and chairs so uncomfortable the workers would rather stand. “I wonder how other places are, where we’re not welcome.”
Ottesen jabs her finger at apparel giants like H&M. “I don’t understand why the big chains, like H&M, don’t act?” she says. “H&M is a big company with massive amounts of power. Do something! Take responsibility for your employees.” H&M, which has a significant presence in Cambodia, declined to be interviewed for the program. It did, however, release a statement vaunting its position on Cambodia, saying: "H&M, in 2013, as the first fashion company, launched a concrete plan to enable living wages through our contractors."