British clothing retailers Primark and Mothercare have launched probes following allegations of mistreatment of Indian workers who make clothes for them.
The two retail chains responded after the Guardian newspaper reported that workers were being paid as little as 13 pence (Rs10.74) an hour during 48-hour weeks, while some were being forced to work excessive overtime.
A Primark spokesman said it took the accusations “very seriously” and would investigate its suppliers, while Mothercare said it would probe its two factories in India.
The Guardian report looked at the condition of workers in a Bangalore unit that supplies to several high-profile UK and US fashion brands. India’s largest ready-made clothing exporter, Gokaldas Export, which supplies to brands including Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and H&M, confirmed that wages paid to garment workers were as low as £1.13 for a nine-hour day, the report said.
This fails to meet the basic needs of the workers and so falls below the minimum international labour standards promised by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a code of conduct which sets out basic rights for employees across the supply chain, the Guardian report added.
The ETI code states that workers shall not regularly be required to work more than 48 hours per week, that overtime should be voluntary and that it should not exceed 12 hours per week.
Other retailers also face allegations after a report by the Guardian in July in which Primark, as well as leading supermarkets Asda and Tesco, were accused of breaching international labour standards in Bangladesh.
On Monday, the newspaper quoted one worker making clothes for US clothing retailer Gap Inc. as saying she was dismissed after taking more than two weeks off work due to illness.
Texport Overseas, which supplies clothes for Gap and British retailer Matalan, denied this. Texport also denied that workers were forced to do overtime, after allegations that some were obliged to work overtime of between six and 18 hours per week.
Another worker for a supplier who makes clothes for Swedish chain H&M said she had clothes thrown in her face when she failed to meet production targets, adding that up to 15 workers a day collapsed and had to have medical treatment.
H&M said the allegations were “unacceptable” and said it would report the complaints to its suppliers.
Gap admitted that it had recently experienced a “number of compliance violations at factories in the Indian subcontinent region” and would work to resolve the issues.
Anti-poverty charity War on Want said the allegations should be taken seriously by the British government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“Exploitation of workers in developing countries such as India is standard practice for British retailers right across the spectrum,” said John Hilary at War on Want.
“This just underlines the urgent need for Gordon Brown to step in now and stop these abuses once and for all.”
PTI contributed to this story