News

New Primark store faces storm

5 August 2009 - 11:46am

NEWS HOOK:
Thursday, 13 August 2009 - Britain's most popular cheap fashion retailer Primark opens its second biggest UK store in Bristol

PICTURE/INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY:
9.00-10.00 am Thursday, 13 August 2009
Primark, 1-27 The Horsefair, Broadmead shopping centre, Bristol BS1 3BB
Anti-sweatshop campaigners with radios stage public broadcast protest


7p an hour sweatshops row hits launch

The launch of Primark's second biggest UK store in Bristol next week will be marked by a demonstration over the conditions faced by 7p an hour workers making its clothes.

The Bristol-based campaign organisation Labour Behind the Label and the anti-poverty charity War on Want will lead the protest as the four-floor, 90,000 square feet shop opens on Thursday (13 August).

The protestors will compare Primark's financial success with workers in Bangladesh producing its clothes for as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks, well under a living wage.

Protestors will demonstrate, using radios broadcasts of garment workers' voices, sweatshop figures, protest songs and announcements.

The demonstrators will point to Primark's new store and 11 others launched in the past year, including its first outlets in Germany and Portugal.

They will also cite Primark's 21 per cent sales growth in the 16 weeks to 20 June and 10 per cent rise in profits to £122 million during the six months ending in February.

According to War on Want research, workers interviewed toiling at three Primark factories in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka received on average only £19.16 (2280 taka) a month, under half a living wage. Some employees were paid only the minimum wage, £13.97 (1663 taka) a month, far less than the £44.82 (5333 taka) needed for nutritious food, clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport.

The vast majority of employees lived in small, crowded shacks, many of which lack plumbing and adequate washing facilities. Though forced overtime is illegal in Bangladesh, employees said they were made to toil extra hours, often unpaid.

Workers complained that in the fast fashion rush to produce the latest styles, many of them suffered verbal and physical abuse as they struggled to meet unrealistic targets. Yet the Dhaka workers said none of their factories was unionised.

Ifat, who toils in a factory, said: "I can't feed my children three meals a day."

Labour Behind Label spokesperson Anna McMullen said: "Primark sell clothes at rock bottom prices by driving down suppliers' costs, trapping garment workers in poverty. It must stop paying lip service to ethics and ensure decent wages and conditions for the people behind their success."

War on Want spokesperson Seb Klier said: "For years Primark has reassured shoppers its garment workers earn a living wage. Yet our research exposes these claims as nothing more than cynical attempts to mislead the public. It is high time the British government stopped this abuse."


NOTE TO EDITORS:

CONTACTS:

  • Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728
  • Sam Maher, Labour Behind the Label (+44) (0)7517 516943

Self-regulation for mercenaries sparks Afghan warning

17 July 2009 - 12:00am

NEWS HOOK Friday, 17 July 2009 UK government ends consultation over self-regulation for private military companies


Abuse fears grow as conflict mounts

British foreign secretary David Miliband is today accused of risking civilian lives in Afghanistan by allowing UK private military companies to regulate themselves.

This warning, from the charity War on Want, comes amid mounting controversy surrounding more deaths in Afghanistan as the government today ends consultation over its proposals for self-regulation of mercenary firms.

The charity points to many human rights abuses which have involved private armies in Iraq and Afghanistan. These include:

  • the wounding of two Iraqi civilians when mercenaries from UK company Erinys International fired on a cab near Kirkuk.
  • mercenaries with the US firm Blackwater, now renamed Xe, shooting at and killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
  • mercenaries working for the NATO coalition shooting the Kandahar police chief and nine of his officers in Afghanistan.

War on Want says the UK government's voluntary code of conduct for mercenaries would leave civilians in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq exposed to further abuse.

It has spearheaded the campaign for tough legislation, such as a ban on mercenaries' use in combat and combat support.

The charity is now demanding the government scraps its proposal for self-regulation and allows Parliament to have its say on legislation that would ensure strict controls.

Government figures show private military companies have secured British government contracts for 2008-2009 worth more than £42 million in Afghanistan alone.

Over the last three years, the UK has spent more than £148 million on contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Britain and the US plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, reports suggest there will be wider use of private armies.

The Afghan and Iraqi administrations have passed laws restricting or banning mercenaries.

The US has seen moves to regulate private military companies under presidents George Bush and Barack Obama.

The United Nations has called for governments to introduce legislation to control the private military sector.

In 2002 the UK government and the Commons foreign affairs select committee admitted self-regulation was not adequate as a solution.

But if Miliband's policy goes ahead, no UK private military companies could be held to account for human rights abuse.

Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Letting mercenaries run loose threatens to increase abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Miliband is giving private armies the power to act with impunity. The government must scrap its voluntary code for mercenaries and bring forward genuine regulation."

NOTE TO EDITORS: The submission by War on Want in response to the government's consultation is available on request.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

‘Kill off G8 dinosaur'

7 July 2009 - 3:21pm

NEWS HOOK: Wednesday 8 July-Friday 10 July 2009 G8 group of the world's richest nations holds summit


Call to dump free market policies

The G8 group of the world's richest nations is a dinosaur which should be put out of its misery, the British anti-poverty War on Want says today.

It says the group should be scrapped in favour of a democratic alternative based on people's needs, not corporate greed.

The call is signalled as UK prime minister Gordon Brown and the other G8 leaders prepare to start their three-day summit in the Italian earthquake-hit city of L'Aquila tomorrow (Wednesday).

War on Want cites German chancellor Angela Merkel's comment that "the G8 format is no longer adequate".

But the charity says Merkel's proposal to extend the G8 to the G20, including the largest developing countries, ignores the fact that both groups have championed the free market policies which caused the world economic crisis.

John Hilary, executive director at the anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: "It is time to put the G8 dinosaur out of its misery and to recognise that even the G20 is already past its sell-by date. Both the G8 and G20 continue to promote the free market policies which are increasing global poverty. We need a new body with a radical new plan for the world's economy, drawn up and backed by the full membership of the United Nations."

War on Want points to wide consensus that the present crisis is the result of structural imbalances caused by three decades of deregulated free-market capitalism. It highlights the need for the world economic system to undergo a major transformation.

But, the charity says, the G20 used the London summit in April to resurrect the failed policies and institutions of the free market era.

The London summit gave even more power to three institutions which, the charity claims, have policed the neoliberal world order - the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

War on Want cites the findings of an expert commission, chaired by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, which has devised a series of radical recommendations for global economic reform.

Proposals to the UN summit on the financial crisis in June included a global economic coordination council within the UN, which, War on Want claims, would bring a more just and sustainable form of global economic coordination than now practised by the WTO, IMF and World Bank.

According to the charity, the UN process offers a democratic alternative that would enable those least responsible for the crisis to make fair and effective decisions on the future of the world economy.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

 

Tesco clothes ‘sweatshops' attacked

2 July 2009 - 1:48pm

NEWS HOOK: Britain's largest retailer Tesco holds its annual meeting in Glasgow


Campaign targets £3bn profits retailer's AGM

Britain's largest retailer Tesco today comes under fire over 7p an hour garment workers in Bangladesh as shareholders prepare to hail the company's record £3 billion profits at its annual meeting.

The charity War on Want cited research which reveals employees toiling up to 80 hours a week making Tesco clothes in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for as little as 1663 taka (£14) a month.

Employees calculate a worker needs £44.82 (5333 taka) a month to give their family nutritious food, clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport.

In the three Tesco factories researched, average workers' pay, £20 (2280 taka) a month, is less than half a living wage.

Most employees live in small, crowded shacks, many of which lack plumbing and adequate washing facilities.

Runa, who produces Tesco clothes, is one of many young women forced by poverty to leave her rural home to earn money to send back to her family.

She said: "My pay is so meagre that I cannot afford to keep my child with me. I have sent my five-month old baby to the village to be cared for by my mother."

Ifat, who also toils in a Tesco factory, said: "I can't feed my children three meals a day."

Though compulsory overtime is illegal in Bangladesh, employees said they were made to toil extra hours, often unpaid.

Workers complained that in the fast fashion rush to produce the latest styles, many of them suffer verbal and physical abuse as they struggle to meet unrealistic targets

War on Want contrasts Tesco's claim to respect the rights of its garment suppliers to join and form trade unions with the charity's study which revealed that none of the Dhaka factories investigated was unionised.

War on Want adds that Tesco has signed up to a code of conduct under the Ethical Trading Initiative which commits the retailer to pay garment workers living wages, support freedom of association and collective bargaining, and to ban harsh treatment and excessive working hours.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "While Tesco has smashed all records with more than £3 billion profits, it is also breaking promises to ensure a living wage and decent conditions for its garment workers. Tesco cannot be trusted to keep its word. The British government must act to stop this abuse."

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

NOTE TO EDITORS: Tesco's annual meeting will take place at 10.30 am on Friday (3 July) in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Exhibition Way, Finnieston, Glasgow G3 8YW.

‘Rich countries snub poor'

25 June 2009 - 4:56pm

NEWS HOOK: Friday, 26 June 2009 UN summit on world financial crisis ends in New York


UK helps block radical UN response to finance crisis

Millions of people in developing and developed countries face growing hardship after Britain with other rich European countries and the US blocked a radical UN response to the global financial crisis.

This warning comes today from the anti-poverty charity War on Want amid the UN summit on the crisis in New York.

The charity said the summit communiqué expected to be adopted in full tomorrow made significant references to fundamental issues such as debt, tax, aid conditionality and regulation.

It added that the document would also include the important recognition that poor countries are not to blame for a crisis which is hitting them hardest.

But the communiqué fails to agree action on the urgent progressive changes needed to transform the global economy. Instead it declares a commitment to more of the same policies that War on Want argues led to the crisis.

The document calls for the conclusion of the Doha round of trade negotiations - a move that War on Want says would deepen unemployment already soaring due to the crisis.

The charity says that conclusion of the Doha round threatens 7.5 million workers in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia and Uruguay, and millions more in other countries.

In a report to the conference, a UN commission led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz cited the role trade has played as a cause of the crisis.

Among his proposals, Stiglitz argued the need for the world economic system to undergo a major transformation.

Yet the communiqué ignores the report's key proposal - a powerful global economic coordination council within the UN to bring more just and sustainable change than offered by the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation.

Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: "Wealthy countries like Britain have tried to block UN proposals for radical action on the global economy and used the summit to reaffirm support for a failed free market agenda. Millions of the world's poor people face worse hardship so long as rich nations dictate the rules of the global economy."

According to War on Want, before the conference the UK and other western governments tried to water down proposals with moves including threats of a boycott and publicly rubbishing the summit. The charity also pointed to signs that the UK had pressed developing countries to downgrade their own support for the conference. British premier Gordon Brown refused to send a cabinet minister to the event, but will attend the G8 summit in July, which War on Want brands outdated and elitist.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

Brown told: ‘Rich don't have the answers to the crisis'

22 June 2009 - 11:44am

NEWS HOOK

UN summit, 24-26 June, New York

G8 summit, 8-10 July, Italy


Criticism of prime minister's commitment to a ‘new politics' as he shuns the UN but attends the G8

Campaigners today criticised Gordon Brown for refusing to send a cabinet minister to the United Nations summit on the economic crisis (1), but personally attending the 'outdated and elitist' G8 meeting in July.

War on Want, Jubilee Debt Campaign and the World Development Movement argue that as the vast majority of the world's countries are not invited to the G20 or G8 meetings, the UN summit is vital in enabling those least responsible for the crisis to make fair and effective decisions on the future of the world economy.

A commission, chaired by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, has already devised a series of radical recommendations for global economic reform. But the three organisations claim the UK and other western governments have been trying to water down proposals, including threats of boycott and public rubbishing of the summit. They say there are signs that Britain has been putting pressure on developing countries to downgrade their own support for the summit. And UN diplomats have revealed that UK government officials have been visiting developing country capitals in order to "persuade" them not to send high ranking officials to the UN conference.

Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: "Brown is determined to see off calls for regulation and continue on the path of free market fundamentalism at all costs. The UK government has made no secret of its efforts to rubbish the UN process. Alarmingly, it now looks like the government is also going out of its way to undermine the involvement of developing countries as well."

Nick Dearden, the Jubilee Debt Campaign director, said: "If we're ever going to see a more just economy, the prime minister and other western leaders need to start listening to the majority of the world. It's surely become apparent over the last 12 months that the rich don't have the answers. If we need to clean up politics in the UK, it's needed even more internationally, where the rule of the richest is still taken for granted."

Vicky Cann, campaigns officer at the World Development Movement, said: "The G8 is an outdated and elitist forum. The G20 is still unrepresentative and did not generate the radical ideas needed to make the global economy work for people and the planet. The focus on pushing free trade and rushing through the WTO Doha trade deal is a smokescreen behind which rich governments are hiding to keep big business happy. The World Bank, IMF and WTO need to be radically reformed and ideally replaced - not given more power over those countries which did nothing to create this crisis, but which are suffering most from it."

Campaigners are particularly anxious that the summit agrees that transformative, structural change to the global economy is needed, not simply tinkering at the edges. Particular support is given to professor Stiglitz's proposals for:

  • a powerful global economic coordination council within the UN, which would bring a more just and sustainable form of global economic coordination than is currently offered by the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation.
  • a debt restructuring mechanism, leading to cancellation of unpayable and illegitimate developing country debt.
  • an end to the practice of forcing economic policies on developing countries, and radical reform of international financial institutions and the WTO.
  • new arrangements for a global reserve currency to replace the dollar.

Campaigners are also calling for climate change to be tackled through the UN and fear the G8 will pre-empt an international discussion at Copenhagen in December.


CONTACTS

Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)7983 550728

Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign (+44) (0)7932 335464

Kate Blagojevic, World Development Movement media office (+44) (0)7711 875345

NOTE TO EDITORS

1. United Nations Conference on the Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development on 24-26 June in New York City.

     

    ‘UK must end sweatshops exploitation'

    17 June 2009 - 3:59pm

    NEWS HOOK

    London, 6.30 pm, Wednesday 17 June 2009

    Bangladeshi garment workers leader attacks Primark, Tesco and Asda over exploitation


    7p an hour workers spark unions call

    British prime minister Gordon Brown tonight (Wednesday) faces mounting pressure to stop UK retailers exploiting people who make their clothing overseas.

    Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers' Federation, a Bangladeshi trade union, will speak out in London over Primark, Tesco and Asda employees paid as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.

    Haque will tell a public meeting: "British companies demand factories produce their cheap, good-quality clothes to meet fast fashion deadlines. But they ignore the lack of a living wage, proper overtime rates, paid maternity leave and union rights. The UK government must act to halt this abuse."

    The meeting has been organised by the federation's partner, anti-poverty charity War on Want.

    Its latest sweatshops report attacked Primark, Tesco and Asda over growing hardship for their garment workers. All of the employees interviewed earned far below the living wage of £44.82 (5333 taka) a month.

    War on Want says British ministers should regulate UK retailers as the charity publishes new evidence that the Bangladeshi government is failing to enforce labour regulations on issues such as pay and trade union rights.

    The evidence,  in a briefing containing new research , including interviews with over 1200 garment workers, has been produced by the charity, the federation and the Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society.

    In addition, the briefing shows how the Bangladeshi government fails to implement employees' rights. These include pay, overtime wages, working hours, days off, paid holidays, health and safety, union rights and freedom from bosses' abuse.

    Hana Begum, a Bangladeshi garment worker blacklisted by employers with other activists after a strike over layoffs and reduced benefit, will also address the meeting. Begum's decade in the garment industry still leaves her too poor to raise her six-year-old son Mehemedi, who lives with his grandmother 60 miles away.

    NOTE TO EDITORS: The meeting will take place from 6.30-7.45 pm today (Wednesday 17 June) at Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT. Besides Amin and Begum, other speakers will be War on Want executive director John Hilary, Graciela Romero, the charity's international programmes dir ector, and Niaz Alam, from London Pensions and Unite. Admission is free.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)207 549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

     

     

    Miliband pressed on Israel trade agreement

    12 June 2009 - 2:46pm

    NEWS HOOK
    Monday, 15 June-Tuesday 16 June 2009
    European ministers meet in Brussels on proposals to upgrade political and trade links with Israel


    War on Want calls for sanctions over human rights

    British foreign secretary David Miliband today faces pressure to call for the suspension of an agreement which gives Israel preferential trade deals with the European Union.

    The pressure comes from the anti-poverty charity War on Want, which says Israel's continuing aggression and human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank disqualifies it from trading preferences granted under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

    European foreign ministers will hold talks next week with far-right Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to discuss the possible upgrading of EU-Israel relations.

    Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "The intensification of Israel's aggression and its increased human rights abuses against Palestinians mean that any upgrade of EU-Israel relations is unacceptable. As the people of Gaza enter the third year of a devastating Israeli blockade the EU-Israel Association Agreement must be suspended immediately until Israel complies with human rights law."

    The meeting with Lieberman will take place during a gathering of the EU-Israeli Association Council in Brussels on Monday (15 June) and Tuesday (16 June).

    These talks coincide with the second anniversary of the start of Israel's blockade of Gaza, and come five months after the Israeli assault on Gaza which left over 1,400 Palestinian dead, including hundreds of children.

    War on Want argues Israel's human rights abuses have worsened since the EU began the process to upgrade relations with Israel last June.

    It says:
    *the Gaza blockade has been tightened, with vital commodities denied entry and people forced to live like prisoners.
    *the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank has accelerated.
    *the number of illegal checkpoints has increased from 602 last June to 632 in March.

    In December the EU council said any upgrade "must be based on the shared values of both parties, particularly on democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedom, good governance and international humanitarian law."

    War on Want is calling on Miliband to confirm the suspension of the upgrade, demand an immediate end to the Gaza blockade and suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement until Israel observes international humanitarian law and human rights.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

    Firm halts rail work for Israel settlers

    9 June 2009 - 3:34pm

    Campaigners' breakthrough on Veolia hailed

    The anti-poverty charity War on Want today welcomed reports that French company Veolia has abandoned the $500 million rail project linking Jerusalem and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

    War on Want hailed the news as a significant victory for campaigners who have exposed companies that are complicit in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine.

    Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "The end of Veolia's involvement is an important victory for the International campaign to win justice for the Palestinian people. It sends a clear message to other companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine that their complicity will be challenged."

    The charity's report Profiting from the Occupation in 2006 exposed the role of Veolia in the rail project.

    Veolia has waste management contracts with local governments and university across the UK.

    The rail project, due for completion by 2020, is set to run from west Jerusalem to the major Israeli settlements of French Hill, Neve Ya'akov and Pisgat Ze'ev, with further lines to settlements such as Gilo, near Bethlehem, and Ramot.

    The Israeli government has openly stated that the project will help complete the annexation of East Jerusalem.

    The Veolia move comes only days after US president Barack Obama called on Israel to cease building settlements, which, he said, violate earlier agreements and undermine peace efforts.

    Next week UK foreign secretary David Miliband will join other ministers for Brussels talks on European Union proposals to upgrade political and trade links with Israel.

    Miliband faces heavy pressure to oppose the upgrade after Israel's onslaught on Gaza.

    War on Want has repeatedly called for an end to the EU-Israel ugrade.

    NOTE TO EDITORS

    The European Council meeting which Miliband will attend takes place on Monday (15 June) and Tuesday (16 June).

    CONTACT

    Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

     

     

    ‘EU policies deepen jobs crisis'

    7 May 2009 - 3:21pm

    NEWS HOOK: Thursday, 7 May 2009 European jobs summit, Prague


    European leaders are today accused of promoting free market policies that will lead to more job loses in the EU and the rest of the world.

    The accusation comes from the British charity War on Want, in response to an EU summit held in Prague today (Thursday, 7 May) that was supposed to tackle the impact of the global economic crisis on employment in Europe.

    War on Want's latest research, Trading Away Our Jobs, was the first-ever report to calculate the numbers of jobs lost globally in the wake of trade liberalisation and to analyse the impact of free trade on employment. The report highlights how free trade agreements have already caused tens of millions of job losses over the last 20 years.

    War on Want trade campaigns officer, Dave Tucker, said: "For decades, the EU has consistently pursued trade policies that have caused mass unemployment around the world and led us to financial meltdown. Now European workers are feeling the impact of these free trade policies. The EU must wake up and refocus on the needs of European people, not its corporations."

    During the free trade 1990s, the jobless in Latin America soared from 7.6 million to 18.1 million, with unemployment rises in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Between the early 1990s and 2006, farming jobs in Mexico slumped from 8.1 million to around six million as a result of trade liberalisation. Now a third of all the region's workers face insecure employment. The report says these same policies will also create millions of jobless people in Europe itself.

    According to the charity, recent judgements by the European Court of Justice have also undermined fundamental workers' rights, allowing companies to play workers from different countries off against each other.

    The summit comes at a time when global unemployment is already rising fast, with the International Labour Organisation forecasting over 50 million more people worldwide could lose their jobs by the end of this year, and 200 million workers fall into extreme poverty. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says that by next year jobless numbers in rich nations could rise by eight million.

    CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

     

     

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