Fashion retailers including Primark and Asda need an ‘urgent wake-up call’ over human rights

Fashion retailers including H&M, Primark and Asda have been told they need an “urgent wake-up call” over the human rights and the increasing exploitation of garment workers in Pakistan.

A report from Labour Behind the Label and Global Rights Compliance found exploitation in a number of retailer factories including GAP, Adidas, M&S, Puma, Levi’s, Boohoo and Inditex.

Exploitation included violating minimum wage requirements, enforcing excessive hours, ignoring health and safety concerns, and avoiding compensation for injured and killed workers.

While the retailers use social auditing to check standards, the authors of the report expressed concern that auditing processes seemed to completely miss the human rights violations and are doing nothing to remedy the urgent situation.

Global Rights Compliance head of business Lara Strangways said the findings should be “an urgent wake up calls to brands”.

“Social auditing is failing to pick up violations and is clearly not fit for purpose,” she added.

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The report reveals that fashion factories have been exploiting workers by employing them in less formal ways to reduce risks and cut costs.

Findings show factories paying over a third of workers surveyed less than the minimum wage, equivalent to £68 a month, while nearly two thirds of workers weren’t being paid the agreed rate for enforced overtime.

Workers reported that they were being shifted to piece rate contracts where they are only compensated for what they make, resulting in less earnings and increased hours.

Health and safety violations were found to be endemic at the factories studied, with auditing routinely failing to identify violations and flag risk.

One worker employed in a factory supplying UK and European fashion brands stated: “Our workplace is not a very safe place. Due to cotton dust and fumes, workers find it difficult to breathe.

“Overlock machines are particularly bad in this regard. A worker died but the doctor was asked that working conditions should not be mentioned as the cause of death.

“His family was not paid any compensation,” the worker added.

Labour Behind the Label policy lead said Anna Bryher said fashion brands need to “stop this exploitation” and ensure workers are “paid enough to live with dignity.”

“In Bangladesh too, workers are reporting they cannot afford to buy meat or even eggs in the month, because inflation is outstripping wage growth,” Bryher added.

Strangways added fashion retailers “must act with urgency to reassess their approach to sourcing and engage in discussion on appropriate remedy with the labour movement.

“If they fail to do so, it is only a matter of time before we see another disaster, in which they would have played a part.”

Reports and dataRetailSocial sustainabilitySupply Chain

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