Tesco, Primark ‘poverty profits' attacked

21 April 2009 - 12:00am


Tuesday, 21 April 2009: Tesco and Primark (Associated British Foods) announce profits growth

Retailers slated over clothes workers' pay

Leading British retailers Tesco and Primark today are accused of cashing in on the recession with cheap fashion sales by exploiting overseas garment workers.

The accusation comes as this morning Tesco announced record £3 billion full-year profits and Primark's owner, Associated British Foods, revealed a half-year 10 per cent rise in the retailer's profits.

The charity War on Want condemned both companies for driving down labour costs from suppliers, whose employees pay a high price through poverty pay and worsening living standards.

Its research published in December showed workers producing clothes for Tesco and Primark in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka earn as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.

Some employees receive 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 average workers' pay, £19.16 (2280 taka) a month, represented less than half a living wage.

Amid food and fuel inflation, employees' living standards had fallen since War on Want interviewed them two years earlier.

Last June the charity and the group Labour Behind the Label reported that workers making Tesco clothes in the Indian city of Bangalore struggled on less than £1.50 a day for a 60-hour week, with higher rice prices making life even harder.

Employees in the factory earn on average £38 a month, and the lowest paid receive just £30, while the Bangalore Garment and Textile Workers' Union calculates a living wage as at least £52 a month.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Tesco and Primark are thriving by selling cheap clothes while the workers producing them are paid a pittance. Despite the retailers' continued promises, wages remain well below living costs for garment workers and their families. It is high time the UK government stopped this abuse."

NOTE TO EDITORS: War on Want's research in Bangladesh and India is available at:

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



No Land! No House! No Vote!

20 April 2009 - 5:28pm

As South Africa prepares for its national elections on Wednesday 22 April, many of War on Want's partner organisations in South Africa plan to boycott in protest

During elections in 2004, the Landless People's Movement (LPM) initiated the ‘No Land! No Vote!' campaign to express a vote of no confidence in the range of political parties on offer in the elections. The group Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM, literally ‘people living in shacks') joined the boycott during the 2006 local elections and changed the campaign slogan to ‘No Land! No House! No Vote!'. The campaign is now organised under the banner of the Poor People's Alliance, an alliance which comprises, among others, our partners LPM, ABM Durban, ABM Western Cape, Sikhula Sonke and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (WCAEC). Recently, the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), a War on Want partner based in Johannesburg, also opted to boycott the forthcoming elections.

Since the fall of Apartheid 15 years ago, social movements and rights' organisation across South Africa have become disillusioned with the policies of the African National Congress (ANC) government. The slow pace of delivery of services such as electricity, housing and piped water facilities and the lack of transparency in the delivery process has left many poor residents of townships and shack settlements disappointed with the government. The introduction of cost-recovery policies for public services by local governments has meant that many poor residents are no longer able to afford access to water, electricity and formal houses, even more so after the rise in unemployment and massive job losses caused by trade liberalisation. Furthermore, social movements have criticised the lack of consultation by local and national government and the top-down nature of policy formulation and implementation.

With the 2010 Soccer World Cup approaching, many South African residents and traders face eviction from their shacks or trading places as the government tries to ‘clean up' the cities and to prevent tourists from seeing the ‘other side' of South Africa's cities. These harsh measures have led many to compare the current government with the Apartheid government, which was notorious for its ‘forced removals' that displaced many South Africans from their homes.

Against this background, social movements are demanding that the government listen to the people and make an effort to understand the plight of the poor. The decision to boycott the election vote has not been taken kindly by some government officials. Social movements have increasingly been subject to state repression and intimidation and their legitimate protests and democratic right to refuse the vote have been criminalised by the state. In February 2009, a community meeting held by the WCAEC in Gugulethu, Cape Town was disrupted by police and hundreds of men, women and children were tear-gassed and several were beaten with police batons. Two AEC leaders were arrested. In March 2009, five activists from an APF affiliate in Kliptown, Soweto were sentenced and found guilty of ‘public violence' after merely exercising their right to protest and making legitimate demands for long awaited housing and basic services.

In the run-up to the 22 April national elections major political parties, such as the ruling ANC as well opposition parties such as the Congress of the People (COPE) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), need the support of South Africa's poor. The no-vote campaign is a powerful answer from social movements to politicians that the poor cannot be easily manipulated. They have been actively campaigning in South Africa's townships and shack settlements, promising improvements in service delivery and making efforts to engage members from the community. War on Want supports their campaign for justice, and will continue to work alongside its South African partners in opposition to policies which deprive millions of their rights.

Brazil's landless pay tribute to slain workers

17 April 2009 - 5:25pm

Workers' rights groups in Brazil and across the globe mobilise for a day of action

Today rights groups in Brazil and across the global are taking part in the International Day of Peasants' Struggle. The day marks the 13th anniversary of the massacre of 19 landless farmers by military police in the state of Pará in the north of Brazil. The workers were members of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), a Brazilian social movement comprised of 1.5 million landless workers and a War on Want partner organisation.

Since the massacre the MST has continued to fight on behalf of landless workers in Brazil, a country where 3% of the population owns two-thirds of the land. This year the group is marking the International Day of Peasants' Struggle by demanding the resettlement and government assistance for 100,000 landless families living in camps. The MST has occupied land in eight states across Brazil as part of its protest for the resettlement of these families. The MST bases its campaign for land reform on a clause in the Brazilian constitution which holds that land that does not benefit the public can be occupied and claimed by landless families.

The MST is joined in solidarity by rights groups from around the world. On all five continents landless workers, youth activists and small farmers are organising demonstrations targeting the policies which have hurt small farmers across the developing world, most notably trade liberalisation, the proliferation of genetically modified foods and the drive towards export-oriented agriculture. War on Want supports the work of the MST and all groups demonstrating against corporate-led farming practices that have harmed millions worldwide.


Honduran women's group condemns sweatshop conditions

6 April 2009 - 2:10pm

Women's collective presents findings before rights commission

On the 23 March María Luisa Regalado, coordinator of Codemuh, a Honduran women's collective and War on Want partner organisation, presented a report to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington exposing the poor health and safety conditions in Honduran export processing zones (EPZs). The report found that the poor working conditions in these factories have negatively impacted on the health and well being of factory workers.

The report condemns the weak occupational health legislation in EPZs, which remains outdated and inadequate despite calls from campaigning organizations such as Codemuh. It details the failure of both factory management and the Honduran government to recognise and take responsibility in cases where workers have suffered severe work-related illnesses and injuries as a result of weak health and safety legislation.

Codemuh has asked the IACHR to visit Honduras in order to document the violation of health and safety rights in sweatshops and put pressure on the Honduran government to ensure that factories are regularly inspected and the health of workers is better protected. Codemuh recently presented to the Honduran Parliament a revised occupational health chapter for the country's labour code which safeguards the rights of workers. Codemuh's proposals are currently being reviewed by Honduran legislators.

A key part of the government's strategy to attract foreign investment, the EPZs in Honduras currently have 229 factories and employ more than 130,000 people of whom 69% are female. Western corporations take advantage of no tax, abundant cheap labour and limited trade union activity to cut production costs and maximise profits.

These corporate incentives come at the expense of Honduran workers. In a country where unemployment rates are high and social security is limited many people, especially women, have no choice but to take low paid jobs in sweatshops, where they are forced to work long hours in often unsafe working environments. The repetitive tasks involved in factory work combined with excessively high production targets cause severe health problems which in some cases have left women permanently injured and unable to work. Factory management has failed to take responsibility for these cases and workers have often been left with little or no compensation.

War on Want supports Codemuh's effort to implement robust safeguards for workers' rights in Honduras. Our work with Codemuh forms part of our broader programmatic work around defending workers' rights in sweatshops and plantations around the world.  You can read more about Codemuh's work on our website, and also see footage from their presentation to the IACHR.

7p an hour Primark workers ‘shame'

3 April 2009 - 3:37pm



Saturday, 4 April 2009

Anti-sweatshop campaigners demonstrate outside flagship Primark store on the eve of its second anniversary

WHEN? 2.30 pm BST, Saturday 4 April 2009

WHERE? Primark flagship store, 499-517 Oxford Street, London W1K 7DA

WHAT? Leading developing charity War on Want joins campaign group No Sweat as models weighted in chains stage a sweatshop fashion show outside the store

Chained models slave labour protest

The flagship store of Britain's most popular cheap fashion retailer Primark tomorrow faces a demonstration by chained models over its workers earning as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.

The models will stage a sweatshop fashion show outside the Oxford Street shop on the eve of its second anniversary.

This store sold one million items in its first ten days of trading and continues to flourish despite the recession.

And the retailer's profits jumped 17 per cent to £233 million during the 12 months ending in September.

Leading development charity War on Want will join campaign group No Sweat to spotlight the scandal that Bangladeshi employees making Primark clothes are worse off than two years ago when the store opened.

The latest War on Want report showed employees in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on the minimum wage, £13.97 (1663 taka) a month, and all of them earning far less than a living wage.

It cited average workers' pay as £19.16 (2280 taka) a month, less than half a living wage.

This contrasted with the retailer's 17 per cent profits jump to £233 million during the 12 months ending in September.

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

Yet amid food and fuel inflation, employees' living standards have fallen since War on Want interviewed them two years earlier.

And on Monday the UN warned that two million children in Bangladesh suffered from acute malnutrition due to food price hikes.

War on Want spokesman Paul Collins said: "Primark's flagship store is thriving with clothes at rock bottom prices while workers producing them face deeper poverty. Gordon Brown's claim that the G20 summit deal will tackle global poverty ignores the reality that UK companies such as Primark are trapping people overseas in dire hardship. Unless he regulates British firms, growing numbers of the poor will pay a terrible price for the world economic crisis."


The War on Want report can be downloaded here

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

G20 slammed for ‘shortsighted' deal

2 April 2009 - 5:50pm


Thursday, 2 April 2009 G20 summit ends in London

Millions will suffer from summit failure, says charity

The anti-poverty charity War on Want today condemned Gordon Brown and other G20 leaders for throwing money at the global economic crisis rather than addressing its root causes.

According to War on Want, the G20 has used the London summit to resurrect the failed policies and institutions of the free market era, in a deal which prioritises short-term action at the expense of fundamental reform.

It called for a new world economic system based on principles of public benefit not private profit, achieved through democratic control and a fair redistribution of the fruits of globalisation.

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: "Millions of people will pay a high price for the G20's refusal to address the root causes of the current crisis.

"The world demanded a new economic system which puts the needs of people first. Instead the G20 have just thrown money at the failed institutions of the past."

War on Want said a stimulus package for the developing world is desperately needed. But the G20 decision to treble money available to the International Monetary Fund will resurrect an institution which lacks legitimacy and continues to impose crippling free market conditions on countries which turn to it for help.

The charity also attacked the G20 for its failure to take decisive action to close down tax havens. Tax dodging by corporations costs the UK economy £100 billion a year and deprives developing countries of an estimated £250 billion a year - money which could meet the UN anti-poverty goals several times over.

The charity warned that the G20 leaders' renewed insistence on a conclusion to the Doha world trade talks will deepen unemployment already soaring due to the global economic crisis. This puts 7.5 million workers at risk in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, Tunisia and Uruguay, and millions more in other countries.

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

War on Want is a member of the Put People First alliance. Read the alliance's joint reaction to the  G20 communiqué.



Comment is free: G20: Barred from the summit

2 April 2009 - 1:00am

My accreditation has been withdrawn. Has the government decided only to allow non-critical organisations into major events?




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