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Nov 18, 2020
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Reports link UK high street chains to worker exploitation, low wages

Published
Nov 18, 2020

Indian garment factories producing goods for major UK retailers are again in the news for exploiting workers and paying "shockingly low" wages, according to a survey by the ActionAid charity and a related probe by the BBC.


Manufacturers used by UK retailers have been accused of unacceptable working conditions



Nearly 70% of garment makers in southern India are paid less than £50 a month, described as “shockingly low” by the charity, the report claims.

Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are among retailers cited using factories where workers face conditions deemed unacceptable for UK workers, revealed a related probe by the BBC. Its findings have prompted the companies to launch investigations.

Among the BBC claims were that workers were not given toilet breaks, denied drinking water in shifts and that managers would blow whistles to drive workers back from short lunch breaks. Other employees at the unnamed garment factories in south India told the corporation they were forced to work overtime and made to stay until additional work was competed.

However, following the investigation, M&S said it had conducted unannounced audits to inspect conditions in the factories and said it found “absolutely no evidence” that workers were being denied access to basic facilities. But it did identify some overtime practices "that were not acceptable".

A spokesman for the Marks & Spencer told the BBC: “As a responsible retailer, we have a duty of care to protect the livelihoods of the people that work in our supply chain. As a result, we have worked collaboratively with other brands using the site to put in place a robust remediation plan and will be undertaking regular unannounced audits to ensure its implementation. The site supplies less than 1% of our homeware range and we will keep our position under review.”

Sainsbury’s said it was “shocked” and “deeply concerned” by the allegations, and had launched its own investigation, as well as working with ActionAid to implement a "full remediation plan".

Tesco also said it was "deeply troubled" by the investigation and said it was implementing measures including prohibiting excessive overtime and strengthening grievance procedures.

Action Aid, which supports more than 1,200 female garment workers across 45 villages in the region, told the BBC that forced overtime, verbal abuse and poor working conditions were routine at the factories in question.

Esther Mariaselvam, associate director at ActionAid's office in Chennai, India, said: “The reality is that this is just a snapshot of what millions of women are forced to endure in supply chains across the world but we hope that hearing from garment workers – who have bravely spoken out about their experiences – will lead to real change on the ground”. 

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