Mauritius: Closure of garment factory supplying to ASOS & John Lewis leaves migrant Bangladeshi workers unpaid & stranded; ASOS outlines remediation efforts

Port Louis, Mauritius - Photo credit: Joachim S. Müller CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
In July 2019, the Dhaka Tribune reported that workers in Mauritius had been left without jobs and two months' wages after their employer, Tex Knits garment factory, had ceased operations. Among those affected were Bangladeshi migrant workers left effectively stranded without food and adequate shelter after the factory cut off the water and electricity supplies to the their dormitories. 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre traced ASOS and John Lewis & Partners as brands sourcing from Tex Knits garment factory, based on public records, and invited them to respond to the situation. Both companies confirmed they had been sourcing from Tex Knits until it had gone into liquidation. The full responses are included below.

In its response, ASOS outlined remediation actions it has been taking, including liaising with unions, the factory liquidators and the Mauritian government. ASOS said it had ensured the reconnection of electricity and water suppliers to the workers’ accommodation and the provision of an ongoing food allowance. It stated that workers have been paid wages owed for June and confirmed the remaining outstanding wages would be paid by the liquidators in full by 26 August. Of the 151 affected workers, ASOS identified 83 as Bangladeshi migrants and is speaking to the Mauritian government about repatriating those who wish to return home, while working to find employment for those remaining. It has also asked the Mauritian government to meet its responsibility regarding the adequate and proper payment of severance pay under local law.

John Lewis & Partners said it had stopped sourcing from Tex Knits this year since the factory went into liquidation.

UPDATE [October 2019]: We invited ASOS & John Lewis to provide an update on the situation and impact on former workers. ASOS said it had not seen the progress it had hoped for and the initial promised payment date for outstanding worker wages has now moved to 11 October, while 19 migrant workers from Bangladesh have been repatriated without being paid wages owed. A number of workers have been redeployed into other businesses while they await payment of owed wages and ASOS is following up on the remainder. Further, an ASOS approved manufacturer for Tex Knits - Tara Knitwear - went into administration in August; Tara Knitwear remains operational and ASOS is monitoring the situation. The full update is included below. John Lewis did not provide an update.

This is a developing story and we will continue to monitor the situation and update as we receive further information. 

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Item
1 October 2019

Update from ASOS

Author: ASOS

...Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share an update... We remain deeply concerned about the situation and continue to work closely with local partners towards an appropriate resolution.

Tex Knits

Unfortunately, we have not seen the progress we had hoped for since our initial response... Worker wages for the month up to 19th July remain outstanding pending the sale of the factory’s assets, and the initial promised payment date of 26th August has now moved to 11th October. Nineteen migrant workers from Bangladesh have also been repatriated without being paid wages owed. Since our last update, we have also received confirmation that a number of workers have been redeployed into other businesses on the island, to meet their short-term needs while they are awaiting July's payment. We are following up on the remainder.

Tara Knitwear

....[A] manufacturer connected to Tex Services Ltd.,Tara Knitwear, went into administration on 21st August 2019. ASOS has had an indirect relationship with Tara Knitwear since 2014 as an approved manufacturer for Tex Services Ltd. Tara Knitwear remains operational and continues to act as an approved manufacturer for other ASOS suppliers on the island. We are in close contact with the administrators to monitor the situation.

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Article
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Author: Laurie Rivolo et Emilie Payen, Defi Media (Maurice)

Afin de remettre à flot les usines Tara Knitwear et Rossana Textiles Ltd, placées sous l’administration de BDO Mauritius depuis la semaine dernière, la compagnie britannique Asos et la Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile (CMT) ont été approchées pour des contrats de production.

Pour payer les employés, qui n’ont pas reçu leur salaire pour les mois de juillet et d'août 2019, les administrateurs...ont demandé une avance de Rs 15 millions à ISP Ltd, une agence gouvernementale...

Des Rs 15 millions avancées, Rs 12 millions seront utilisées pour le paiement des salaires. Rs 3 millions serviront à maintenir le coût de production des usines...

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Article
19 August 2019

Mauritius: ASOS intervenes after supplier closure leaves migrant workers without wages, electricity, water & food

Author: Emma Cosgrove, Supply Chain Dive

"Asos intervenes when supplier cuts off wages, water, food to workers", 19 August 2019

...Asos intervened last month when a Mauritius-based supplier cut off electricity, water and a food allowance to a dormitory of 151 majority migrant workers. The retailer became aware of the situation after the Dhaka Tribune reported on the workers' plight and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), a global research group with offices in New York and London, contacted Asos and John Lewis and Partners after determining them as customers of the factory.

In a letter to the BHRRC... Asos Sourcing Director Simon Platts wrote the company worked with the local government to restore basic necessities to the workers' living conditions after the Tex Knits factory went into liquidation... The workers had not been paid for months before the liquidation, according to reporting form the Dhaka Tribune. Working with a local labor union and the Mauritian government, Asos facilitated worker wage payouts for June. Wages up to July 19 should be paid by the end of August...

Asos' response demonstrates a growing understanding among retailers who operate with deep and diverse global supply chains. Resolving supplier issues, particularly regarding labor and human rights, requires involving multiple local authorities in what is often called a "jurisdictional approach."...

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Company response
13 August 2019

ASOS' response

Author: ASOS

...Through our engagement with the liquidators and representatives of the Mauritius government we were able to ensure that the workers’ electricity and water supplies were reconnected at their accommodation and that workers are provided with an ongoing food allowance. These provisions were then verified by the local trade union...

...[W]e have discovered that 83 of the 151 workers affected are migrant workers from Bangladesh. ASOS recognises that migrant workers are particularly vulnerable... [T]hey can be at risk of debt bondage through unethical recruitment practices, subject to inferior employment terms and restrictive immigration policies, and also experience exploitation in the workplace. 

... [M]igrant workers' visas in Mauritius are tied to their employment, meaning they are not able to seek alternative employment (even in the case of insolvency) without government intervention. We have therefore been engaging daily with local government as a matter of urgency in order to redeploy these workers and have also investigated placing these workers with our other suppliers in Mauritius, although these efforts have as yet been unsuccessful. Of the 83 Bangladeshi workers, 14 currently wish to return home. We have been speaking to the government and understand that their repatriation is now underway. 19 further workers have been redeployed elsewhere on the island... We are... working with the liquidators and government to find employment for the remaining 50 migrant workers...

While the 68 Mauritian workers affected by this liquidation are more protected by local regulations, we nevertheless continue to have some concerns regarding the adequate and proper payment of severance pay under local law. We understand that the current precedent is for the Mauritius government to make these severance payments, and the liquidators are currently negotiating this issue with the government. We have asked the government to meet this responsibility and are continuing to monitor the situation and engage with those involved in order to ensure that workers’ rights and protections remain the utmost priority...

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Company response
29 July 2019

John Lewis' response

Author: John Lewis & Partners

John Lewis & Partners spokesperson said: “We are saddened to hear about the conditions experienced by workers at Tex Knits Garment in Mauritius. We stopped working with the factory in May when we were informed that the company had gone into receivership and therefore stopped being a supplier.”  

Article
23 July 2019

Mauritius: 65 migrant workers owed severance pay & stranded without food or shelter after garment factory closure

Author: Fazlur Rahman Raju, Dhaka Tribune

"65 Bangladeshi garment workers in Mauritius spending days without food and shelter", 23 July 2019

Around 65 Bangladeshi garment workers, employed in Mauritius, were deprived of work and salaries for more than three months, and have been spending days without food and shelter.

According to sources, Tex Knits Garment, a ready-made garment factory in Mauritius, did not pay salaries to 180 workers – including 65 Bangladesh workers – for two months, giving the excuse of lack of work orders.

Rasel Ahmed, an employee of Tex Knits Garment... [said] that they used to live in the company’s dormitories, but company authorities had cut off the electricity, and water supply lines, two weeks ago.... 

Rasel... left Bangladesh around three and a half years ago, and has been working in Tex Knit Garment ever since... [He said:] “If Bangladesh High Commission cannot solve the problem, then please send us home, we do not want to die here without food, and shelter.’’

The workers met with the local authorities several times. Local authorities assured them that they would solve the matter, but the workers are yet to receive any payment...

An official of Tex Knits Garment... told that factory authorities promised to give half a month’s salary within a week, and the other half later. However, he declined to comment about salary payments of other overdue months...

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