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
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin