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Bangladesh: Investigation alleges labour abuses at factory making Spice Girls T-shirts

Author: Simon Murphy, The Guardian, Published on: 21 January 2019

"Revealed: Spice Girls T-shirts made in factory paying staff 35p an hour", 20 January 2019

Spice Girls T-shirts sold to raise money for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made at a factory in Bangladesh where women earn the equivalent of 35p an hour during shifts in which they claim to be verbally abused and harassed, a Guardian investigation has found...

A spokesman for the Spice Girls said they were “deeply shocked and appalled” and would personally fund an investigation into the factory’s working conditions. Comic Relief said the charity was “shocked and concerned”.

Both said they had checked the ethical sourcing credentials of Represent, the online retailer commissioned by the Spice Girls to make the T-shirts, but it had subsequently changed manufacturer without their knowledge. Represent said it took “full responsibility” and would refund customers on request...

The company behind the factory that made the T-shirts, Interstoff Apparels, said the findings would be investigated but were “simply not true”. However, a catalogue of evidence about conditions faced by the employees was uncovered, including allegations that:

  • Some machinists are paid 8,800Tk (£82) a month, according to a recent payslip – meaning they earn the equivalent of 35p an hour for a 54-hour week. The sum is well below the 16,000Tk unions have been demanding and falls far short of living wage estimates.
  • Employees are forced to work overtime to hit “impossible” targets of sewing thousands of garments a day, meaning they are sometimes working 16-hour shifts that finish at midnight.
  • Factory workers who do not make the targets are verbally abused by management and reduced to tears. Some have been made to work despite ill-health.

...The factory was employed to produce the T-shirts by the Belgian brand Stanley/Stella, which claimed to closely monitor operations. But Muller warned: “The evidence coming out of this factory clearly shows the failure of auditing and current brand monitoring. Stanley/Stella claim to have monitored all their Bangladesh factories, and yet the evidence shows gross violations of labour laws and human rights. Brands must step up their game.”

Bruno Van Sieleghem, the sustainability manager at Stanley/Stella, said the company was investigating the findings and remained “strongly committed to help this country and workers to improve their welfare”...

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