UK retailers accused of abusing foreign workers

8 December 2006
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08 December 2006 | Antony Barton

Workers in some Bangladeshi factories are paid just 5p an hour to make clothing for some UK shops, according to charity War on Want.

The UK-based workers' rights organisation claims that starting salaries in some of the factories are barely a third of the living wage. Some workers are also forced to do up to 140 hours a month overtime, often unpaid, or face dismissal, according to the charity.

It also claims that employees at the six factories examined in its Fashion Victims report produce "significant amounts" of garments for Asda. Four also produce for Tesco and three for Primark.

All three retailers have signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative's code of labour practice, which aims to ensure the working conditions of workers producing for the UK market meet or exceed international labour standards.

A Tesco spokesman denied that its clothing was made by workers in poor working conditions. "All suppliers to Tesco must demonstrate that they meet our ethical standards on worker welfare, which are closely monitored," he said. "Our suppliers comply with local labour laws and workers at all Bangladeshi suppliers to Tesco are paid above the national minimum wage."

A statement from Asda read: "Abuse of any form is unacceptable. That's why we carry out 13,000 factory audits worldwide to make sure workers aren't exploited." It added that Asda plans to introduce more unannounced audits and toll-free phone lines for whistleblowers.

Asda expressed its frustration that War on Want would not disclose the names of the factories referred to in its report. A statement from Primark, which takes action to improve working standards in Bangladesh, also requested that the charity divulged this information. War on Want told that it would not do so in case employees lost their jobs. It was also a condition of the interviews that neither the names of the factories nor the employees would be revealed.


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