European garment workers producing for German brands continue to face abuse amid COVID-19, report finds; incl. company responses

On the seventh anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, Clean Clothes Campaign and Bread for the World published new research on the working conditions in European factories producing for German brands Esprit, Gerry Weber and Hugo Boss. The report "Exploitation Made in Europe" found that garment workers continue to be paid less than a living wage and are being forced to work without adequate protective measures despite the risk of COVID-19, or pressured into taking unpaid leave due to the cancellation of orders, driving them even further into poverty. It also names other German brands sourcing from Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Ukraine but were not linked to any specific factories.

Other allegations include gender discrimination, reports of threats, insults, humiliation and intimidation, as well as irregularities concerning annual leave, sick leave, dismissal, overtime, short-term labour contracts and maternity leave, and repression of trade union rights. The organisations are urging the brands to engage with their suppliers, and governments of states where brands are based to introduce mandatory due diligence legislation to ensure human rights are protected along supply chains.

Several of the companies mentioned in the report are BSCI (amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative) members. On 12 May, amfori published a statement in response to the report, also available below.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited all the companies named to respond to the report. Aldi, Deichmann, dm, Esprit, Gerry Weber, Hugo Boss, KiK, NKD, OTTO, s.Oliver, Tom Tailor and Ulla Popken responded, their responses are available below. Peter Luft told us via phone that the report doesn't relate to them. Adler, Basler, Escada, Olymp, Walbusch did not respond. Kaufland said it is preparing a statement. Kirsten and René Lezard are insolvent, so we did not approach them.

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Company response
19 May 2020

Response by Deichmann

Author: Deichmann

Unofficial BHRRC translation of German original (attached)

Deichmann currently does not purchase any products directly from Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia or Ukraine. In general, Eastern Europe plays a subordinate role for Deichmann in the production of its products. About 80 percent of shoes worldwide are produced in Asia and this percentage can also be applied to Deichmann.

In general, we do not have our own production facilities, but we buy our shoes directly from our production partners, usually in large quantities with a certain amount of advance planning. In this way we achieve favourable prices that we can pass on to our customers. All production partners are audited by external auditors such as TÜV or Intertek, both through announced and unannounced visits. In some larger factories, Deichmann staff are present all year round and develop the collections together with our production partners. If violations of our Code of Conduct are found, we work together with the manufacturers to remediate those [violations] and to improve the situation with a lasting effect.

It is correct that we are mentioned with our name in the report you quoted, but no concrete accusations are made in connection with us. Should anyone notice any violations, we can only ask them to disclose these findings to us so that we can check on the issue. This is the only way we can work together with our production partners to remediate any possible shortcomings.

Download the full document here

Company response
19 May 2020

Response by dm

Author: Sebastian Bayer, dm CEO for Marketing + Procurement

Unofficial BHRRC translation of German original (attached)

In our production for childrens' textiles, we attach great importance to long-term and close partnerships with our partners and their manufacturers on the one hand, and to compliance with certain standards, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), along the entire supply chain on the other. Some of our products are manufactured in Bulgaria, Croatia or Ukraine, among others. There is no production in Serbia. The companies we work with in Bulgaria, Croatia and Ukraine are all GOTS certified. This standard represents an internationally recognised, all-level and gapless certification, i.e. all undertakings involved in the supply chain are regularly audited by an independent institute. In addition to an ecological and sustainable production of textiles, the focus is also on social criteria. Moreover, we at dm have ourselves been GOTS-certified since 2012 and are therefore responsible for our part of the chain. Compliance with the standard by us as well as by our suppliers and their sub-suppliers is checked regularly. We also visit production sites ourselves to get an idea of the situation on site. In addition, we maintain close exchange with our long-standing partners regarding working conditions and remuneration on site.

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Company non-response
18 May 2020

Adler Modemärkte AG did not respond

Company non-response
18 May 2020

Basler did not respond

Company non-response
18 May 2020

Escada did not respond

Article
18 May 2020

Olymp did not respond

Company response
18 May 2020

Response by NKD

Author: NKD

...As an immediate response NKD liaised with Amfori and further concerned competitors mentioned in the report, to discuss on how to get engaged and take action to address any possible violations where applicable. However, the report does not link NKD to a specific factory or case, so that it is not clear to us, where the investigation for the report was conducted. This makes it impossible for NKD to address remediation activities in a specific factory...Despite NKD not operating their own production facilities, we take our responsibility towards workers in the supply chain very seriously by conducting our own internal audits (Factory Evaluations) before allowing any production to take place and additionally require production facilities to undergo a 3rd party audit e. g. against an internationally accepted and accredited standard like Amfori BSCI = Business Social Compliance Initiative. In case non-conformities are raised during an internal or external audit, we follow-up and closely monitor remediation by working jointly with our suppliers to find sustainable solutions. If a supplier is not willing to undertake appropriate measures to sustainably remediate non-conformities, we reserve the right (as a last option and after all efforts are exhausted) to sanction the supplier by not allowing any further production or orders to be placed for NKD. In addition to continuous auditing and monitoring, NKD conducts a broad variety of CSR-related capacity building measures and regularly trains workers and mid-level management to raise awareness...NKD wishes to address any possible violations that are possibly linked to our company. However, due to the lack of detailed factory information in the report and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible for us to conduct own investigations at site or to appropriately give a statement against the raised allegations. We believe in a fair and constructive dialogue with NGOs and take any allegations raised against our company very seriously. Hence, we are sincerely hoping for further information that could be provided to us, so that we can get involved and improve the situation in factories working on the production of our products where applicable.

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Company response
18 May 2020

Response by s.Oliver

Author: s.Oliver

s.Oliver Group is currently working with suppliers from Bulgaria and the Ukraine - with a comparatively low proportionate procurement volume in the single-digit range. All our suppliers are contractually bound to comply with strict social and safety standards. These standards include the prohibition of child and forced labor as well as regulations on working hours, breaks and holidays and the payment of the legally required minimum wage. We regularly check this on site.

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Company response
18 May 2020

Response by Ulla Popken

Author: Ulla Popken

...Since 2010 Popken Fashion Group is a memeber to amfori BSCI, the business association for open and sustainable trade. We adhere to the amofi Code of Conduct and require our suppliers to do the same in all sourcing countries. The amfori statement reflects our attitude towards the report: https://www.amfori.org/news/amfori-responds-exploitation-made-europe-report

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Company non-response
18 May 2020

Walbusch did not respond