Nelson workers’ rights advocate Yasmeen Maria Jones-Chollet. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Silent protest speaks volumes

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While many of us use our annual leave to go on holiday, Yasmeen Maria Jones-Chollet spent hers making a statement by living the life of a sweat shop worker.

That meant no sunlight, no talking, no seeing her son, and only one 10-minute break to eat a small portion of rice as she worked her fingers bloody producing bags for 16 hours a day, 112 hours a week.

The gruelling demonstration was to protest both the ethical and environmental issues that plague the fashion industry.

Yasmeen says she wants to show people what is happening behind the scenes when it comes to the products they buy.

The Nelson workers’ rights advocate says it’s time to start having the difficult conversations.

“A lot of people are simply afraid to say, ‘why are all my clothes made by slaves?’”

Yasmeen set herself up on Trafalgar St from 6am-10pm daily last week with her sewing machine, placards and donation box.

She covered her mouth to symbolise the silence sweat shop workers are forced to sit in.

“They can be severely reprimanded for talking or wasting even a second.”

The physicality started to take a toll on her body as she hit the 100-hour mark.

“My neck and shoulders are very sore, I am using muscles I don’t usually use, repetitively.”

The First Union worker, mum and registered nurse says she draws on her own life experiences when taking a stand against the industry.

“I have met people who have worked in these factories in Bangladesh and Thailand, it’s real and it hurts them.”

She says they often feel completely powerless in their situations.

“They are so grateful to be heard and to know that someone that isn’t trapped in that system cares.”

Yasmeen says the work these women and young children are forced to do is soul crushing.

“It’s devoid of meaning, it’s repetitive, it’s monotonous.”

However, the most difficult aspect for Yasmeen wasn’t the sleep deprivation, hunger or lack of sun, but watching people shop.

“Seeing people nod at me, but then go into Starbucks and buy a coffee in a plastic container, it’s hard.”

Yasmeen has been moved by the public’s response which has included an inundation of donations as well as plenty of support and encouragement.

“A 14-year-old girl was crying and came up to me and said ‘thank you,’ it was so beautiful.”

At the end of the week Yasmeen sold her bags with all proceeds going to factory workers in Bangladesh.

While there is plenty of work to do in order to rid the fashion industry of all its issues, Yasmeen says there is a way we can help.

“Stop the mindless, meaningless, relentless consumerism.”