TESCO, MARKS AND Spencer and Next are among the retailers coming under fire in a damning report by the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.
The lobby group examined the working conditions for 100,000 workers in 83 factories across Indonesia, Sri Lanka and The Philippines in order to assess how the workers who supply western retail chains are treated.
The report found that massive brands like Adidas, Converse, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Billabong are “routinely breaking every rule in the book when it comes to labour rights”. A huge number of high street chains and sporting goods retailers are named in the report – there are 60 brands named in all.
The report found that no factory in the three countries examined paid a living wage to all of their workers, and that some are below the legal minimum wage for that region. Forced overtime is also a common practice. The ITGLWF says that the report’s findings “indicate that widespread violations and abuses of workers’ rights continue to be the norm in the industry”.
The report identifies that many of the factory workers are not members of unions, for fear of having their contracts terminated. In Indonesia factories had taken “anti-union measure” in order to interfere with unions’ activities. The numbers of workers on short term contracts were as high as 85 per cent in some factories.
The study found that young women working in factories in Sri Lanka were told that their employers would prefer if they did not marry, and that some factories carried out pregnancy tests as part of the recruitment process.
Ashling Seely, ITGLWF spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that such a large number of brands and retailers are named in the report that they won’t be approaching them individually, because the findings indicate that industry wide solutions are needed. She says that the factories involved were not identified by name because “less responsible” brands have pulled out of factories in the past after being named and shamed. She says:
We held a multi stakeholder meeting in Sri Lanka at the end of March and Nike, Columbia Sports, Next and Marks and Spencers attended and examined some findings relating to Sri Lanka. Adidas have pledged to write to their suppliers saying they want their workers to have the right to freedom of association.
Seely says Adidas didn’t quite endorse trade unions, but that it is a step in the right direction.
The ITGLWF is criticising big brands for spending billions on corporate social responsibility audits of factories, but failing to notice the problems highlighted in the report. Seely says:
Brands spend $60 billion conducting audits, but they’re not done by people with an intimate knowledge of the factory. You can walk into a factory and see that there have been improvements in child labour and health and safety, but it’s the unseen problems that need to be addressed.
The 60 brands named in the ITGLWF report: