Bangladesh: Labour abuses alleged at factory making Spice Girls T-shirts

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

Comic Relief said both the charity and the band had carried out ethical sourcing checks on the online retailer commissioned to make the T-shirts, Represent, but that it had subsequently changed manufacturer without their knowledge.

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.

British pop band the Spice Girls have said they will fund an independent investigation into working conditions at the factory. 

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Article
21 January 2019

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

Author: Simon Murphy, The Guardian

"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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Article
21 January 2019

Bangladesh: Spice Girls announce investigation into factory making their charity T-shirts

Author: Kieran Guilbert, Thomson Reuters Foundation

"Spice Girls probe charity T-shirts over 'abuse' in Bangladesh", 21 January 2019

British pop band the Spice Girls said they will fund an investigation into a Bangladesh factory over its treatment of women who make T-shirts for a charity campaign backing equality...

A spokeswoman for the Spice Girls... said they were “deeply shocked and appalled by the claims”. “The girls will personally fund an independent investigation into the working conditions of this factory,” the spokeswoman said. “Equality and the movement of people power has always been at the heart of the band.”...

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Article
22 January 2019

Major British retailers linked to Bangladesh factory producing Spice Girls T-shirts amidst labour abuses

Author: Simon Murphy, The Guardian

"Tesco, Mothercare and M&S use factory paying workers 35p an hour", 21 January 2019

Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Mothercare use a factory in Bangladesh that paid the equivalent of 35p an hour to machinists making Spice Girls T-shirts sold to raise money for Comic Relief, it can be revealed.

...Labour’s Mary Creagh said... “There is no reason for any British retailer to tolerate these abuses in the labour supply chain...

M&S confirmed the company has been working with Interstoff for 13 years. A spokesman added: “We will be investigating this incident. We take any allegation against factories we work with extremely seriously and we have already arranged for a compliance manager to visit as soon as possible...

Tesco said it was investigating. Mothercare said it took staff welfare “very seriously”, adding that the retailer “works in close dialogue with all factories” and would be reviewing the information.

A spokesman added: “Mothercare has a code of practice, based on the Ethical Trading Initiative code, which outlines the labour standards expected at all factories, which forms part of our conditions of trade. “Before production is approved, all factories must provide an independent factory ethical audit from a shortlist of providers... Dependent on the findings, the factory is approved for production and a corrective action plan is issued, detailing any areas where the factory needs to improve. Factories found to have issues in the audit are not approved for production. “Mothercare requires that once a factory is approved for production, an independent ethical audit is then renewed on an annual basis to ensure continued adherence with the code.”

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Article
1 March 2019

Bangladesh: Factory producing charity T-shirts for UK under investigation for mass sackings & labour abuses

Author: Simon Murphy, The Guardian

"'Girl power' charity T-shirts made at exploitative Bangladeshi factory", 1 March 2019

Charity “girl power” T-shirts sold in the UK are made at a Bangladeshi factory where more than 100 impoverished workers claim to have been sacked after striking in protest at low wages... The £28 garments are sold online by F=... with £10 from each T-shirt donated to Worldreader, a charity...

... the garments were made by Bangladeshi firm Dird Composite Textiles, where some workers earn as little as 42p an hour and complain of harassment. In one case, a female employee was beaten on the orders of the management and threatened with murder. After being contacted...

Machinists... say they have been sacked en masse after striking over wages in January... executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity... said: “...The workers that got fired know the law and their rights. In many cases they were union leaders... These workers are picked intentionally.”...

The shirts are made by Stanley/Stella.... that made the Spice Girls T-shirts... F=...said: “...Stanley/Stella... have explained that this... is being investigated by the Fair Wear Foundation and Stanley/Stella’s country manager...

A Stanley/Stella spokesman said: “...some progress is still to be made with regards to social compliance... by producing garments in Bangladesh, responsible European brands – like Stanley/Stella – can drive a positive change.”

Dird’s group... said that the company operated “with the highest regard for ethical and moral standards” and denied any suppression or targeting of worker representatives. He said that the staff who left resigned “because they were not satisfied with the new [government] wage structure...” and... “all workers that resigned have either received their due financial entitlements or have been contacted to collect...[them]”...

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