Marks & Spencers has been accused, once again, of significantly underpaying factory workers in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. Back in 2010 the high street chain promised to introduce the payment of a fair living wage in those countries but according to he workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label, the workers are still being paid significantly less than what is required to achieve a decent standard of living. M&S had claimed to have reached its promise to pay all suppliers a fair living wage in 2015.
According to the Guardian, workers in Sri Lanka received basic pay of 13,500 Sri Lankan rupees a month (£64), but campaigners say they need as much as 33,000 (£158). Workers spoken to for the report were mostly living in shared single rooms with no access to running water. Similar conditions were also found in both India and Bangladesh.
A spokesperson stated “There’s always more to be done due to the complex nature of the clothing supply chain and we cannot determine the wages paid to supplier employees. However, we are committed to ensuring our cost prices remain high enough to pay a fair living wage, training workers in financial literacy and worker rights, and playing our part in collaborating with other brands and governments to improve the sector.”
Working conditions of garment factory employers has been in the spotlight for a number of years yet the unsafe conditions and underpayment of workers persist. Last year, a new documentary released called “The True Cost” thrust the issues to the forefront of our minds. The film, directed by Andrew Morgan, examined the business of fast fashion and highlighted the human rights abuses and slavery that occur so that we can wear cheap and disposable fashion. Morgan met a cotton farmer in Texas whose husband died from a brain tumor from the use of pesticides on the cotton crops. A 23-year-old Bangladeshi garment factory worker featured described how she makes the equivalent of £7 a month. When she attempted to start a union with some co-workers to improve working conditions, she was locked in a room and beaten.
It wasn’t the first time a documentary highlighted the dangerous working conditions and slave labour like treatment of fast fashion factory workers. A report by Swedish documentary Kalla Facta which aired in November 2012 accused H&M of paying garment workers less than 25% of a living wage. They also alleged that the factories were overcrowded and have poor working conditions. The camera crew followed garment worker Deuar Sophon who told them that she is forced to take out high-interest loans to purchase food despite working 70 hours per week making garments for H&M. In February 2013 it was also reported that Spanish retail giant Zara had been accused of employing immigrant workers, including children, to produce clothes in “degrading” sweatshop conditions in South America. The Bolivian workers claimed that they were made to work for more than 13 hours a day and were not allowed leave the factory without permission.
Bangladesh is the second biggest exporter of clothes in the world and its £13billion textiles industry provides money and jobs for millions of workers. Pulling out of the country would cripple a nation so heavily reliant on its garment exports which account for a staggering 80% of total exports. Providing a fair wage and safe working conditions surely isn’t too much to ask?
Remember, don’t let the retailers get complacent, don’t let the politicians forget their promises and think before you buy. There is a reason the clothes are cheap – someone else is paying the price, often with their lives…