Dispatches did a report on the price of cheap clothes made in Britain on Monday.
The report exposed the factories in Leicester where they paid employees £3-£4 per hour, where employees worked 12 hours a day. It appeared that most of the people employed in these factories were immigrants. It’s possible they have assistance from the benefits system in which case the businesses are using the benefit system to their advantage. But it’s also possible that they don’t. A lot of immigrants have no recourse to public funds and no right to work. In my job, where I help vulnerable people with financial issues, I come across people in this situation all the time. So this could all be under the radar.
These factories supplied chains like River Island, Misguided and New Look. One of the factories owners, Shahir (I have to admit it was quite sad to see a muslim factory owner contributing to this unjust system), explained to the undercover reporter that the reason the pay was so low was because "We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh… If we pay everyone £10 or £6, then we will make a loss.“ which I think shows that the big brands need to invest more in the factories they source their stock from if they really have ethical standards. The undercover reporter also found that there were many fire hazards in a factory. This included making people work in front of a fire exit that doesn’t even open in the right direction.
New Look and River Island were notified of the issues and suspended the use of the factories as they did not fulfil their ethical standards. The report appeared to show these factories as ones that slipped through the net as the big brands were part of the Ethical Trading Initiative- “a leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. Our vision is a world where all workers are free from exploitation and discrimination, and enjoy conditions of freedom, security and equity.”
Although I fully support this initiative, I can’t help but think that if so many factories slip through the net here, it’s hard to imagine that things will improve much faster in other countries. Just in December, after demanding an increase in their wages, 11 garment union leaders and activists were detained, security forces raided their homes, trade union offices have been vandalised, 1600 workers have been fired and police have filed cases against 600 workers. Read about it and send a letter from here to ask the Prime Minister to release those that are detained.
Just this yesterday a 20 year old man who worked in a footwear factory passed away from burns when a “fire broke out from a mosquito coil and quickly spread across the factory in the presence of chemicals around 2:00am while the workers were at work. The flame was put out by locals and factory workers by the time fire fighting units arrived, he added.” You can read about it here.
It’s one of those things that makes people feel hopeless because it’s such a wide issue in the establishment and the government. People do not have rights and they are used as commodities. I watched a John Pilger documentary recently. It was made in the 70′s about oppression in Mexico- The Mexicans. One of the discussions he had with a journalist was quite directly related to this topic. The issue of American factories in Mexico, paying workers 40p per hour and then selling the clothes back to them at retail price. The journalist also points out that corruption has been made so smooth working, it is no longer a bad thing but a way of life.
When I discussed this show with my colleague the next day she was very shocked about this poor treatment and poor wages happening in the UK. A few years ago I read about the poor treatment of workers in UK farms in the ecologist’s guide to food. I’ll do a post about this soon and find out the state of things now, as the book I read came out about 4 years ago.
Corruption, it seems, really is a way of life.
Although I’m ending on a downer, I’m not on a downer. There are so many businesses that support workers rights and we have the ability to contribute to this system instead of the corrupt one. We can also show solidarity and use our privilege to speak out against injustice.
So smoothly moving from one topic to another, please find below my fair favourites of the week!
FAIR FAVOURITES OF THE WEEK
I’ve chosen Women Worldwide this week! Women Worldwide empower women around the world. You can read stories about the people who made the products on the website too.
WRISTLET CLUTCH BAG NAVY– This isn’t really my style but I can imagine my friend Eleanor would love it