Ethiopia: Major apparel brands accused of 'race to the bottom' after investigation reveals wages as low as $0.12 per hour & 'numerous' labour abuses in garment factories; Incl. co. responses

An investigation by Workers Rights Consortium into Ethiopia's growing textile and apparel export sector has found the lowest wages it has ever documented in any garment exporting country - as little as $0.12 an hour - and numerous labour rights abuses in factories supplying to major apparel brands. The investigation included in-depth interviews with garment workers at four export factories producing for leading brands, including H&M, PVH, Walmart, Children's Place and Gerber Childrenwear. 

The investigation uncovered several labour rights abuses including: draconian wage deductions, exacted as punishment for minor disciplinary infractions; degrading verbal abuse of workers by their supervisors; discrimination against pregnant workers; a high incidence of workers collapsing unconscious at their workstations, due to overwork and other factors; and forced overtime; among other violations of law and buyer codes. According to the Workers Rights Consortium, all of the abuses identified constitute violations of the brands' and retailers' own labour standards.

In May 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited H&M, PVH, Walmart, Children's Place and Gerber Childrenwear to respond. PVH said it had commenced an investigation and would take appropriate actions if any violations were found. Walmart said it was reviewing the allegations and will engage its suppliers as needed. H&M said it would continue to follow up with suppliers and implement its programs addressing working conditions and workers' rights. Their responses are included below.

We invited Children's Pace and Gerber Childrenswear to respond; they did not. 

Get RSS feed of these results

All components of this story

Company response
13 May 2019

Walmart's response

Author: Walmart

Thank you for your inquiry and a chance to comment on the report published by Worker Rights Consortium. We are reviewing the allegations and will engage our suppliers as needed. We encourage NGOs and researchers to reach out to us directly prior to publication to help inform investigations and research.

Walmart is committed to promoting the dignity of men and women in our supply chains. We collaborate across industries and organisations around the world to help combat forced and underage labor, address unsafe working conditions, and promote the dignity of women. To this end, we monitor for and investigate issues in the supply chain, embed responsible sourcing practices into buying decisions, and engage in initiatives to find root cause solutions that can transform entire supply chains. We are one actor among many, but together – with our suppliers, other companies, governments and non-profit organisations – we can drive responsibility in our supply chain, and to lead and inspire others to do the same.

If you would like to find out more about our Responsible Sourcing Program please see our recently released ESG Report and updated Responsible Sourcing website  https://corporate.walmart.com/media-library/document/2019-environmental-social-governance-report/_proxyDocument?id=0000016a-9485-d766-abfb-fd8d84300000

https://corporate.walmart.com/responsible-sourcing

Company response
10 May 2019

PVH's response

Author: PVH

... PVH takes the allegations raised in the WRC report very seriously, noting, however, that some of the interviews are two years old and the Park and its practices have evolved since then. We have commenced the investigation we committed to undertake using a credible third party who receives administrative support from someone on our Global Supply Chain team. We hope to have the investigator’s findings the week of May 13th. We will take appropriate action if any violations are found.

PVH has actively worked... at the Hawassa Industrial Park to ensure construction to international fire and safety standards and to implement human rights and other initiatives that promote the safety and wellbeing of the workforce... We have a goal of paying all workers no less than a living wage and, to that end, were instrumental in ensuring that, even in the absence of a national or local minimum wage law, all Park employees are paid a minimum wage established by the tenant companies... We also note... support for housing, transportation, food, and other benefits (like on-site medical care) that are provided to the workers, and is necessary given the lack of infrastructure in the surrounding area, and increases significantly the value of the compensation packages...

Download the full document here

Company non-response
9 May 2019

Children's Place did not respond

Author: Children's Place

Company non-response
9 May 2019

Gerber Childrenswear did not respond

Author: Gerber Childrenswear

Company response
9 May 2019

H&M's response

Author: H&M

...Our position is very clear; we have not and do not intend to move production capacity from other markets to Ethiopia in a “race to the bottom”.

...we currently only work with 9 supplier factories in Ethiopia and our production volume is small, we see potential to further reduce unemployment, raise social and environmental standards and contribute to decent working conditions.

...we have our own production office in Addis Ababa... enabling us to regularly follow-up on our strict sustainability standards with our suppliers, and more importantly, to develop close partnerships with them.

We take seriously any allegations of violations of labour standards and will continue to follow up with suppliers and implement our programs addressing working conditions and workers’ rights. The H&M group works together with the ILO to strengthen industrial relations in the textile industry in Ethiopia...

Download the full document here

Report
31 December 2018

Ethiopia: Investigation reveals wages as low as $0.12 per hour & labour rights abuses in garment factories producing for major brands

Author: Workers Rights Consortium

""Ethiopia is a North Star" Grim conditions and miserable wages guide apparel brands in their race to the bottom", 31 December 2018

...The investigation included in-depth interviews with garment workers at four export factories producing for leading brands. It reveals wages that are lower... than those in any other significant exporting country and grim working conditions that bear little resemblance to the standards the brands claim to be upholding in their supply chains...

...Three of the four factories the WRC investigated produce for H&M, two of the four for PVH. According to news reports, PVH is an investor of one of those facilities. Other buyers sourcing from at least one of these facilities include: Walmart, The Children’s Place, and Gerber Children’s Wear...

[T]he WRC’s investigation ... uncovered... draconian wage deductions, exacted as punishment for minor disciplinary infractions; degrading verbal abuse of workers by their supervisors; discrimination against pregnant workers; a high incidence of workers collapsing unconscious at their workstations, due to overwork and other factors; and forced overtime; among other violations of law and buyer codes. All of the abuses... constitute violations of the brands’ and retailers’ own labor standards...

Our investigation also found the lowest wages the WRC has documented in any garment exporting country in recent years: wages as low as US$0.12 per hour, less than US$25 per month... Wage Indicator’s Living Wage Series... estimates that a living wage in Ethiopia is between $US0.54 and $US0.93 per hour...

Download the full document here