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, it was reported in the Dhaka Tribune that approximately 180 garment workers in Mauritius had lost their jobs and were owed at least two months outstanding wages after their employer, Tex Knits garment factory, ceased operations. It was reported that among the affected workers were at least 65 Bangladeshi migrant workers, who, since losing their jobs were effectively stranded in Mauritius without food and adequate shelter after the water and electricity supplies to the factory dormitories housing them were cut off. 

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 responded and confirmed they had been sourcing from Tex Knits factory up until it had gone into liquidation. The full responses are included below.

In its response, ASOS outlined actions it has been taking to respond to the situation, including liaising with local unions, the liquidators of the factory, the Mauritian government and other local partners. ASOS indicated that it was able to ensure that the workers’ electricity and water supplies were reconnected at their accommodation and that workers are being provided with an ongoing food allowance. It stated that workers have been paid wages owed for June and said it had confirmed with the liquidators that they intend to pay remaining outstanding wages in full by 26 August.

ASOS said it had identified 83 of the 151 workers affected as being migrant workers from Bangladesh. It said it has been speaking to the Mauritian government about repatriating migrant workers who wish to return home and is working to find employment for the remaining migrant workers. It has also asked the Mauritian government to meet its responsibility regarding the adequate and proper payment of severance pay under local law. ASOS said it is “continuing to monitor the situation and engage with those involved to ensure that workers’ rights and protections remain the utmost priority.”

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

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

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All components of this story

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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