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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.

Since our outreach, Hugo Boss provided us with an update, available below.

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Company non-response
18 May 2020

Walbusch did not respond

Company response
15 May 2020

Response by Aldi

Author: Aldi

Our policies, such as the ALDI North Corporate Responsibility Policy, the ALDI SOUTH Corporate Responsibility Principles, our Human Rights Policy Statement as well as our ALDI Social Standards in Production, which are available on our websites, outline precise principles regarding our commitment to socially and environmentally responsible behaviour and set mandatory standards for our business partners. 

Based on these principles, we have already conducted several ALDI Social Assessments in Eastern European countries over the past few years. No violations (e.g. intimidation, health risks or forced labour) listed in the report have ever been detected during any of these visits. 

Out of the four countries mentioned in the report, there are currently three production facilities in two countries producing garment textiles for ALDI: one factory in Serbia produces tights and two factories in Bulgaria produce functional underwear. These factories were part of the ALDI Social Assessments conducted towards the end of 2018 and scored good to very good results. In all production facilities wages are paid according to national laws and no excessive overtime is worked. 

Moreover, the publishers of the report have confirmed that none of the production facilities manufacturing products for ALDI were part of the investigation upon which the report is based. Therefore, we do not agree with the generalised statements made in the report...

[full response attached]

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Company response
15 May 2020

Response by KiK

Author: KiK

In the context of the research published on 24th of April 2020 by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Brot für die Welt "Expolitation Made in Europe" on the production of German clothing companies in Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and the Ukraine, the company KiK was also named in a blanket statement without reference to a specific factory.

KiK currently only has hoisery produced in Serbia by the company 8. Mart DOO. After consulting with the owner, the Clean Clothes Campaign or Brot für die Welt did not visit this factory in 2019 or 2020. The company has a BSCI Grade A evaluation dated 12th December 2018. A control audit carried out at short notice on behalf of KiK on May 12, 2020 at the aforementioned company confirmed this assessment 100 percent. According to this, 8. Mart DOO fulfils all the criteria listed in our Code of Conduct.

[full response attached]

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Article
15 May 2020

Response by OTTO

Author: OTTO

The Otto Group works with factories in Bulgaria and other countries in Eastern Europe and, as in all production countries, pays close attention to compliance with social and environmental standards in accordance with its own and international standards. 

Since the case studies listed in the Clean Clothes Campaign publication ‘Exploitation made in Eastern Europe’ do not refer to the Otto Group, we do not comment on them in detail. 

In general, however, we would like to stress that the issue of living wages, which is raised in the report is also of great concern to us. The Otto Group supports the demand for living wages, but we as a company cannot tackle this issue alone. In order to achieve an improvement, it is essential to join forces with other companies in the context of initiatives and policy – here and on the ground – trade unions and civil society, in order to change the framework conditions that apply to all. We have pushed this approach in the past and will continue to do so...

In order to drive change on the ground, the Otto Group has also been supporting factories as part of its own training programme 'EMPact Social' for more than six years. In interactive working groups, among other things, fair wages are also part of the trainings. 

In addition, as a member of amfori BSCI, we support their statement...

[full response attached]

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Article
12 May 2020

amfori Responds to 'Exploitation made in Europe' Report

Author: amfori

amfori appreciates receiving information referring to the situation in global supply chains. This helps us to review the focus, direction and emphasis of our activities. We would also like to emphasise that amfori activities are not limited to auditing but include a wider range of activities such as capacity building and the facilitation of joint remediation. Investigative efforts complement our members’ monitoring efforts and thus support their responsibility for due diligence.

For this reason, we have shared the report with our concerned members and are liaising with them on how to engage their respective business partners in a coordinated manner to better understand the situation, take collective action and jointly address the violations of the amfori BSCI Code of Conduct where applicable. amfori supports topics highlighted in the report such as the call for a living wageresponsible purchasing practices and Human Rights Due Diligence. Position papers on all these items have been published recently. The report reminds us that countries in Eastern Europe must not be forgotten in our joint efforts for more sustainability...

amfori remains open to engage directly with the Clean Clothes Campaign and Bread for the World on this matter.

[full letter addressed to CCC attached]

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Download the full document here

Company response
12 May 2020

Response by Tom Tailor

Author: Tom Tailor

Thank you for your email and the possibility to respond to the allegations made in the report of the Clean Clothes Campaign “Exploitation made in Europe”, released 24. April 2020.

As an internationally operating lifestyle company, we take the responsibility for our environment very seriously and are aware of our social responsibility towards our employees but also towards our suppliers and partners. Hereby the compliance with human rights is our top priority. For this reason, TOM TAILOR Group voluntarily adheres to the principles of the amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative (amfori BSCI) in the production process, which contains all the essential standards for the protection of labor rights of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. In the report “ Exploitation Made in Europe” Tom Tailor is mentioned regarding production in Bulgaria. We would like to inform you that Tom Tailor has worked with a single supplier in Bulgaria and this cooperation was already terminated in March 2020. As Tom Tailor has been mentioned with several other brands together in this report, we would furthermore like to refer to the joint statement released by amfori BSCI.

In that letter all further details can be found.

Article
7 May 2020

Response by adidas

Author: adidas

...Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to comment... Below you will find a brief description of our general approach to fair wages - which is the central issue in the CCC study – and an explanation of the wage-setting processes we have pursued in the Ukraine...

Our Fair Compensation Strategy requires that: 

1. We do not infringe on the rights of workers, their employers and governments to set fair wages as a minimum; 

2. We conduct due diligence and act when business partners are not compliant with the law or our Workplace Standards; and, 

3. We facilitate positive wage progression and fair wages in our supply chain...

Wages in Eastern Europe 

The CCC report states, incorrectly, that adidas is producing goods in Bulgaria. We are not. However, we do have production in Ukraine and have benchmarked wages for that country. 

To complete the benchmark, we reached out to the Ukrainian statistics office to obtain nationwide wage data and, in parallel, conducted wage surveys in each of our partner’ factories. From the combined data, we created a wage map. The mapping showed that our manufacturing partners were already paying a prevailing industry wage, one that was significantly higher than the legal minimum wage. 

Since our initial benchmarking study, we have continued to track the wage payments for workers employed by these suppliers...

[full response attached]

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Company response
4 May 2020

Response by Hugo Boss

Author: Hugo Boss

Thank you for message and your questions concerning the recent report on working conditions in the textile sector in Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Ukraine, published by Bread for the World and Clean Clothes Campaign. HUGO BOSS also works with suppliers in the mentioned countries, which is already published on our corporate website. This includes the two suppliers in Croatia and Bulgaria mentioned in the report.

As a leading premium fashion brand, HUGO BOSS has responsibility for a complex global value chain and upholds high sustainability standards. A responsible business conduct with all our partners is hence of great importance. HUGO BOSS therefore strives for long-term, trustworthy relationships with our suppliers. We work with our strategic partners for an average of 11 years.

To become a HUGO BOSS partner, suppliers have to undergo a standardized onboarding process. This includes signing the HUGO BOSS Social Standards, which are based on internationally recognized standards such as the core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The social standards include equal opportunities and humane working conditions, appropriate compensation, the prohibition of child and forced labor, freedom of association, and the right to form trade unions. When selecting new partners, HUGO BOSS starts to verify with social audits that they meet the social standards. These audits are repeated regularly. Together with our suppliers, we develop corrective action plans. The implementation of these plans is reviewed in follow-up audits. Training courses organized by HUGO BOSS help suppliers to comply with the standards. If there is a lack of cooperation and repeated violations in follow-up audits, the company will terminate the relationship with a supplier as a last resort.

We have not yet been able to verify the accusations made in the report. In order to check whether the described circumstances correspond to reality, a careful review is necessary. We are therefore currently in close contact with the suppliers on site to investigate the actual situation and to examine in detail the allegations contained in the report. Should the allegations prove to be true, these suppliers would violate the HUGO BOSS social standards, which form the basis of all our business relationships. Accordingly, as described above, we would initiate measures to work together to find solutions and make improvements on site.

This is in line with the fact, that HUGO BOSS continuously strives to further develop our commitment towards good and safe labor and social conditions, also at our supply chain partners. Therefore HUGO BOSS has become an active member with several, well renowned multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Fair Labor Association (FLA). 

We would be happy to update our feedback once we have more information on the circumstances described in the report. 

Company response
29 April 2020

Response by Gerry Weber

Author: Gerry Weber

The GERRY WEBER GROUP produces its garments for our core brands GERRY WEBER, TAIFUN and SAMOON in different regions including Europe and Asia. We are using certified resources only.

We are aiming to offer transparency about the origin of our products by disclosing the country of origin on the inside label.

To achieve the payment of living wages is an integral target of our strategy.

Therefore, GERRY WEBER joined the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles in 2015.

Governments, enterprises, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and standardisation bodies can all contribute to improving and aligning social and environmental conditions along the supply chain in the long term. The Textiles Partnership was founded with the purpose of bringing these actor groups together. GERRY WEBER committed to making a meaningful contribution and therefore joined the partnership in 2015.

In 2010, we became an active member of the Amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). By joining forces with some 2,000 companies, we systematically work to achieve improvements along the supply chain and pool our resources to reach our shared objectives.
We have joined Amfori BSCI to make sure that our global suppliers comply with and improve international labour and social standards.

GERRY WEBER would appreciate to receive precise and traceable indication on non-compliances at our partner factories. This would enable us to start a dialogue and work on improvements in cooperation with our partner. 

More information is available on the Amfori webpage and here:

https://group.gerryweber.com/de/konzern/corporate-social-responsibility/

Read the full post here

Article
29 April 2020

Study: "Exploitation Made in Europe": human rights violations plague apparel production

Author: Simone Preuss, Fashion United

Five days ago was the seventh anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh... The event highlighted the inhuman working conditions... New research by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Bread for the World shows that these working conditions also prevail in apparel-producing factories in Europe...

For their study "Exploitation Made in Europe", researchers in the four countries investigated for the Clean Clothes Campaign and Bread for the World and interviewed employees of suppliers of German fashion companies in Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria...

The investigation found several violations of human rights in the four countries examined, the most serious in terms of wages paid...

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign and Bread for the World, the low price that German apparel brands and retailers pay to suppliers for their orders is at the heart of the problem...

Until there is a strategic means of tackling this issue, there will be tens of thousands suffering in global brands' supply chains,” comments the Clean Clothes Campaign’s Bettina Musiolek. 

This is particularly true during the current coronavirus pandemic: ...Cancellations of orders mean that factories have to (temporarily) close down and lay off workers, usually without compensation. Brands and retailers must therefore stand by their commitments and pay fully and quickly for current, finished and in-production orders... 

Read the full post here