The Today Programme report on claims by Anti Slavery International and SOMO that workers for M&S, Tescos and Mothercare are enduring slave like conditions. This includes excessive hours, little pay and being prevented from seeing their families. The companies deny the accusations.
“I asked for leave,” she says. “But the manager wouldn’t agree. So I decided to escape along with three other girls. The gates were locked so we jumped over the high security wall.”
Her father corroborates her story, claiming the young girl was in a “terrible state” and had thought she “might not survive”.
Her story is similar to that of eight other girls the BBC spoke to. All claim to have been forced to work long hours, sometimes through the night, earning just £37 per month. Others said they were given contracts, but they were in English so they couldn’t read them. Some say they were forced to sign blank bits of paper.
Anti Slavery International and SOMO interviewed 200 other young girls and women and 95 prosecutions have been filed. Their findings are revealed in a new report out today. Despite this the UK companies involved deny the accusations.
The companies say independent auditors have investigated the claims. They asked to speak to the girls privately so they could talk openly. They claim gate records prove the girls were not restrained from leaving the building, and say that 30 days holiday a year was granted.
However the girls told the BBC that the factory managers had known the auditors were coming and told them not to say anything bad. One girl, who wasn’t even 18, was told to hide so they wouldn’t know they had someone underage working there.
Many of the girls at the factory were working under apprenticeship schemes, which is how the lower rate of pay is justified. However they were kept on these schemes for up to three years. New legislation in India, which some of the High Street brands have helped get passed, now states apprenticeships can not be more than six months.
But although this is a positive move, Anti Slavery International are calling for more to be done to protect workers. They say they want recognition by international businesses that, based on audit reports, promising consumers that their supply chains are free from human rights abuses is “wholly unsatisfactory”.
They are also calling for businesses to commit 0.7 per cent of their pre-tax profits in the auditing process.
Aidan McQuade, Anti Slavery International’s Director said: “Until the brands implicated in this research take concrete and credible action to end slavery in Tamil Nadu’s garment and textile sector then the destroyed lives of so many girls and young women will remain a heavy but unacknowledged cost on the balance sheets of international business.”
This report come close on the heels of evidence from War on Want that workers making clothes for Nike, Adidas and Puma are being paid as little as 9p per day. In addition workers in Cambodia, producing garments from companies such as H&M have been striking over poor pay and working conditions. These reports again show our High Street is a very long way from working in any kind of ethical and sustainable manner.
Meanwhile Sumita’s father tells consumers in the UK: “The clothes you wear are probably going to last six months at most. They’re temporary things. But the suffering our daughters went through is permanent.”
If the stories of Sumita and others outrage you and you’re inspired to take action join the Fashion Mob and start change happening.
Photos: Anti Slavery International, unless where stated.