BHS, Peacocks, Matalan 'shamed' on sweatshops

14 September 2007 - 10:44am
Press release

Leading British fashion stores today face a dressing down in a new report that claims they have snubbed efforts to lift the workers who make their clothes out of poverty.

Of 34 retailers surveyed, the report names and shames 12 which have cold-shouldered the only detailed study on the case for garment employees to receive a living wage. The culprits listed are Bhs, Diesel, House of Fraser, Kookai, Matalan, MK One, Moss Bros, Mothercare, Peacocks/Bon Marche, River Island, Rohan Designs and Ted Baker.

The report, launched on the eve of London Fashion Week, comes from the anti-poverty charity War on Want and the anti-sweatshop coalition Labour Behind the Label. War on Want and Labour Behind the Label warn shoppers that the 12 retailers "deserve the most severe criticism and consumer scepticism." They say the culprits "make no reasonable information available on the living wage or other labour rights issues" and "continue not to respond to our enquiries about their policies and practice."

The report, Let's Clean Up Fashion, also attacks other brands, including Sir Philip Green's Arcadia group, Tesco and Marks and Spencer for giving huge rewards to their chiefs and models compared to poverty wages for employees who produce their clothes:

 

  • Topshop owner Green's £1.2 billion dividend was enough to double the salaries of Cambodian's whole garment workforce for eight years.
  • A worker making clothes for Green's Arcadia group in Mauritius would need to toil for almost 4,000 years to gain the £3 million model Kate Moss earned for her Topshop clothing range.
  • The £4.6 million in salary and bonuses for Tesco's chief executive Sir Terry Leahy could pay the annual wages of more than 25,000 Bangladeshi garment employees who supply its stores, based on average wages of about £15 a month.
  • Coleen McLoughlin, the fiancée of footballer Wayne Rooney, collected a reported £1.5 million as a spokesmodel for George at Asda - clothes made in Bangladesh for five pence an hour. Coleen's £3000 Hermes Birkin handbag cost more than a Bangladeshi garment employee could earn in 16 years.
  • The £2.3 million in salary and bonuses for M&S chief executive Stuart Rose would pay the annual wages of almost 12,000 Sri Lankan garment workers.

 

In the report one Bangladeshi worker, Mohua, who earns about £16 a month producing clothes for Asda and Tesco, says: "The wages I get are not enough to cover the cost of food, house rent and medicine." Nadia, paid 70 pence an hour in a Moroccan factory making clothes for a well-known fashion brand, is 35, but cannot afford to have children and shares her three-room home with nine family members.

The report says that, even taking into account cheaper living costs in developing countries, garment employees in Bangladesh earn on average just 7% of a UK living wage, 9% in India, 11% in China and Vietnam, 14% in Thailand and 25% per cent in Morocco. It censures more brands for lack of action on a living wage. Three of the companies which responded - French Connection, Laura Ashley and Mosaic Fashions (Oasis etc) - had "nothing to show", while the bulk of the high street is branded as "disappointingly slow."

Only three retailers both accepted the need for a significant improvement in wages and working conditions and had any apparent genuine plans to address them - Gap, New Look and Next.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer for War on Want, said: "This report exposes retailers' empty rhetoric on ethical treatment for workers who make their clothes, but remain trapped in poverty. The British government must introduce regulation to stop UK companies exploiting overseas workers."

Martin Hearson, campaign coordinator at Labour Behind the Label, said: "The brands' public statements suggest that everything is OK for the labour behind their labels, and that workers are earning a decent wage. This is quite simply untrue, as our research shows."

 


 

CONTACTS:

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

Martin Hearson, report author - (+44) (0)7727 235391

 

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The right to be paid a living wage is a basic entitlement of all working people the world over, whether they work in the public or private sectors, in the global South or North.

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