Artist Kat Eng crouched outside Times Square's H&M for eight hours, sewing on a hand-operated machine.

Last week, on a busy sidewalk in Times Square, a hunched figure in a surgical mask labored at a hand-operated sewing machine. This anonymous worker was Khmer-American artist Kat Eng. According to her website, she sat in front of the flagship location of clothing giant H&M sewing for eight hours, to make a point about conditions for garment workers in Cambodia.

Eng was stitching together two and two-thirds dollar bills. That is the amount of money that a Cambodian garment worker makes in a day. The sum gives the project its name, “</3” or “Less Than Three.” She went back and forth over the papers using black and green thread, and affixed an H&M tag.

Earlier this month in an industrial park outside the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, government soldiers fired on crowds of workers participating in a general strike, killing at least four people and wounding many others. In a statement on her website, Eng said she wanted to call attention to the protests, the latest of many.

Union members in the Australian city Canberra have also been sitting at sewing machines outside the Cambodian embassy there to show solidarity with the slain workers, who had been demanding a wage increase to $160 per month. The government responded that the minimum wage would instead be raised to $100 a month, up from $61 last year. Advocates for Cambodian garment workers say many are so malnourished that they pass out at their machines, sometimes in “mass fainting” incidents involving as many as 140 people at once.

According to Bloomberg News, Hennes & Mauritz, H&M’s parent company, issued a statement after the government crackdown ended the most recent strike:

“As a key buyer in the Cambodian garment industry, we will continue to encourage all relevant parties to renew negotiations and to come to a mutually agreeable solution to this conflict,” Hennes & Mauritz said in an e-mailed statement.

Eng says in a statement that "Less Than Three" was meant to personalize the plight of Cambodian workers by sending "a message to consumer culture" - to the thousands of people who walk through Times Square and similar shopping districts every day, buying cheap goods:

[B]ehind every stitch is a hand, a face, a person….

I am here to meet you, the consumer, and to be consumed by you and to rest in the pit of your stomach. To be explicit, to haunt you while you shop.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  2. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  3. a photo of a beach in Hawaii
    Transportation

    Could Hawaii Be Paradise For Hydrogen-Powered Public Transit?

    As prices drop for renewable power, some researchers hope the island state could be the ideal testbed for hydrogen fuel cells in public transportation.

  4. A toddler breathes from a nebulizer while sitting in a crib.
    Environment

    How Scientists Discovered What Dirty Air Does to Kids’ Health

    The landmark Children’s Health Study tracked thousands of children in California over many years—and transformed our understanding of air pollution’s harms.

  5. Environment

    No, Puerto Rico’s New Climate-Change Law Is Not a ‘Green New Deal’

    Puerto Rico just adopted legislation that commits it to generating all its power from renewable sources. Here’s what separates that from what’s going on in D.C.