London Fashion Week retailers still exploiting workers, says charity

By staff writers
February 25, 2010

As London Fashion Week drew to a close yesterday (24 February), campaigners said that overseas garment workers are exploited to produce clothes for British high street stores.

The anti-poverty charity, War on Want, has emphasised the message throughout the Week, which ran from 19 – 24 February.

A report published jointly by War on Want and Labour Behind the Label criticised French Connection, River Island and Miss Selfridge for what they describe as “their failure to undertake any real work towards a decent wage”.

War on Want also pointed to a Sunday Times report last month .It revealed that thousands of women in Sri Lanka, toiling six days a week making clothes for Marks & Spencer and Next, take home basic pay of less than £50 a month, well below a living wage.

War on Want have quoted Asuntha, 22. They say that she produces Marks & Spencer clothes and that her £45 salary covered only bare essentials, such as rent, groceries and her factory canteen bill.

The charity adds that Asuntha's wage slip for December showed that she worked 52 hours of overtime, earning £77.50. Two other slips indicated overtime exceeding a legal limit of 60 hours a month.

Her one-room shack, which costs £11 a month to rent, is only just big enough for a bed, a table and a small stove. Asuntha's clothes are suspended from the ceiling to save space. A shower in the courtyard is shared with three other lodgers.

Inoka, 25, a machine operator, is another worker whose situation has been brought to light by War on Want. They say that the factory she works at supplies Next and that she earns a basic salary of £53, shares a room 6ft by 9ft and a single bed with her aunt to save money.

"It's not enough to live on," said Inoka.

Her November wage slip revealed that she worked 65 hours of overtime, five more than the legal limit.

War on Want also highlighted their research on Tesco, sponsors of London Fashion Week. They say that workers making Tesco clothes in four Bangladeshi factories earned well below a living wage - as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.

"While these retailers celebrate their London Fashion Week show, they are shamed by people making their clothes who struggle to survive on poverty pay,” said Simon McRae, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want.

He added, “High street retailers are failing to ensure a living wage for their overseas garment workers. It is high time Gordon Brown stopped this abuse."

Over 16,000 people so far have backed War on Want’s campaign, Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops, which the charity describes as “the biggest-ever call on the UK government to stop fashion retailers exploiting overseas workers”.


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