‘UK clothes stores exploit women'

17 July 2011 - 12:00am
Press release

Report comes as Kate favourite retailer stands accused

Thousands of women producing clothes for UK brands are working 14 hours a day for poverty pay in Bangladesh.

This accusation comes today from the charity War on Want in new research launched as the People newspaper publishes allegations that Bangladeshi workers making one of Kate Middleton's favourite brands, Zara, earn under 6p an hour for night shifts.

The charity's researchers interviewed 1,000 female employees from 41 factories supplying western retailers, many of them British.

Some 85 per cent of Bangladeshi garment workers are women.

The findings reveal the vast majority of garments from Bangladesh sold in UK stores are made by women 18-32 years old - of similar ages to many British females who buy them – struggling to survive amid poor pay and conditions. Sewing operators' pay starts at only 3,861 taka (£32) a month and for helpers at 3,000 taka (£25) a month. Yet women interviewed cited their average household expenditure on basic needs, like food and housing, as 8,896 taka (£75) a month.

War on Want campaigns and policy director Greg Muttitt said: “For years retailers have broken their pledges to ensure the workers behind their profits are paid a living wage, on which they can afford at least to meet their basic needs. Our new research shows that British high street fashion has still failed to clean up its act. It is high time the UK government stopped this abuse.”

Eight in ten women interviewed for the report said they worked between 12-14 hours a day - some 16 hours a day - with no overtime pay for the extra hours to meet production targets.

Seven in ten women claimed managers swore at them, around half had suffered beatings or been hit in the face, and nearly one in three reported sexual harassment.

One in two of the women told how they had to work overtime while pregnant, risking their child's health as well as their own, and a similar proportion complained their employer provided no maternity leave. Though Bangladeshi law requires factories with over 40 women workers to provide children's facilities, three in five women interviewed said their companies failed to comply. So most women must send their children away from their city to be raised instead by their parents, often in distant rural areas.

Leading retailers – including Zara, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon Accessorize, New Look, Primark, River Island and Tesco - have pledged to observe a code of conduct with the Ethical Trading Initiative which says that suppliers' workers earn a living wage, do not work over 48 hours a week or face abuse.

The report, Stitched Up, is supported by the National Federation of Women's Institutes. A new poll shows members of the WI, Britain's largest voluntary women's group, want retailers and the British government to ensure a fair wage for overseas garment workers. The survey of 4,700 members found 95 per cent think it is important that people making the clothes they buy earn a living wage and have decent working conditions. Some 85 per cent are more likely to purchase garments from a company if they know they are produced by people earning a living wage in good conditions. And 77 per cent say that all retailers should commit to only buying clothes from workers paid a living wage.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media officer (+44) (0)20 7324 5054 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

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A Living Wage for Workers

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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