Two years after War on Want‘s report on sweatshops, nothing has changed for the Bangladeshi workers producing clothes for Asda, Tesco, and Primark. Workers are still denied a living wage, and work long hours under the threat of harrassment and bullying, with no right to representation.
Today’s report, ‘Fashion Victims II: How UK clothing retailers are keeping workers in poverty‘ (pdf) shares the story of Farzana, a worker in a factory supplying both Tesco and Asda. “On several nights a month I have to work until 3 o’clock in the morning, alongside my regular shifts spanning up to 12 hours a day.”
By Bangladeshi law a working week cannot exceed 60 hours, but workers here regularly work 80 hours in a week – 10-14 hours every day. 1 in 3 work seven days a week to make ends meet. To meet tight deadline, overtime may be compulsory, and even unpaid. This too is illegal in Bangladesh.
Along with the long hours, workers face harassment, and corporal punishment. 60% of female workers have experienced sexual harassment of some kind.
For all this, workers may take home as little as £14 a month. That’s less than 7p an hour. I am regularly told that before we make comparisons, we should remember that everything is cheaper in poor countries. That’s true – a minimum living wage in Bangladesh is £44.82 a month, considerably lower than a living wage here. The average garment worker is paid £19.16 a month. Based on the Roundtree Foundation’s estimate of a UK living wage, this is equivalent to earning £479.88 a month. Tesco made a profit of £2.8 billion last year – you would think it could stretch to a living wage for anyone producing goods for its stores.
Workers cannot group together and protest, because trade unions are banned. This means that workers cannot make demands together, and it is much easier to say no to individuals than to a united workforce. When management finds evidence of workers organising themselves, those workers responsible lose their jobs.
Asda, Tesco and Primark are all member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which to me makes a mockery of the entire project. They have all refused to guarantee a living wage along their supply chain. The ETI also recognises the right of workers to form trade unions to lobby for better pay and conditions. Although Asda, Tesco and Primark allow their UK staff to do this, they do not recognise the rights of those in the factories overseas.
If this makes you as angry as it should, please write to the government about it. This is Fashion Victims II after all – nothing has changed in the last two years, despite the bad press that the companies received. Voluntary initiatives have failed, and the government should demand higher standard. Write to your MP, and also to Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. You’ll find addresses here, and a sample letter here. War on Want‘s report also includes the addresses of the corporate HQs, so you can write to Asda, Tesco and Primark.