Oxfam challenges high street on exploitation

Oxfam is introducing a new concept of "serious shopping" today. Everyone is being asked to ensure that their latest little extravagance or essential was not made with the sweat and blood of exploited workers around the world.

The charity is encouraging shoppers to employ consumer power and ask high-street stores where their clothes are made and, crucially, how workers' rights and safety are guaranteed.

Research shows that "rag trade" workers - mainly women - suffer some of the worst conditions and abuses, which often lead to poor health. In return for long hours, no job security, intimidation and harassment, many workers remain trapped in poverty on pay too low to meet basic needs.

From Guatemala to Pakistan, Bangladesh to the Philippines, surveys found overcrowded, noisy, hot, dark and dirty factories. According to Oxfam, workers are sacked and laid off without notice, time off is rarely allowed even for illness, overtime is compulsory and work- related health problems - such as eyestrain, headaches, chest and back pain, respiratory problem and skin infections - are universal. In many countries where there is extreme poverty, children are forced to work in factories.

Oxfam claims that the drive for cheaper production and shorter delivery times has encouraged human rights abuses of factory workers, and of those who do piece-work at home.

"Their treatment by the garments industry is an affront to their human dignity and an infringement of their basic rights," says its report published today.

It says that the power to improve working conditions for the millions employed in the industry rests with the high-street shops. Oxfam says many have little first-hand knowledge about conditions in the factories supplying their goods. Complex supply chains involving several manufacturers on the way to the stores have allowed exploitation and abuse to go unchecked.

Today, it is calling upon five of Britain's top high-street retailers - Burtons, C&A, Marks & Spencer, Next and Sears, to say where and under what conditions their garments are made.

Oxfam is not accusing any companies of using sweated labour, only asking them to prove that they have sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that they are not. All five (and some others) were approached by the Independent and all were confident that their practices ensured their factories were sound - although not all carried out independent inspections.

Oxfam accepts that many leading retailers are taking steps to guard against exploitation, but says they need to do more. Its campaign comes hard on the heels of that of another charity, Christian Aid, which recently revealed worker exploitation in the lucrative training-shoes trade.

Oxfam is also calling for independent monitoring of suppliers, as well as stronger international trade and labour regulations to improve the lot of the garment makers.

The charity is, however, anxious that its campaign does not precipitate a boycott or any hasty action from retailers that could lead to factories closing down altogether or to children - who often support poor families - being thrown out of work. They say that would damage those working in the industry even more.

"Ending child labour requires a long-term strategy aimed at eradicating the conditions of poverty and inadequate employment opportunities for adults which make it necessary," the report concludes.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Nursery Nurse

£8 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse The Nursery Nurse wi...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on