Many live in one-room wood shacks, pervaded by the smell of raw sewage, work up to 14 hours a day and complain they have to pay for the food at their factory even if they don't eat it, because it often makes them sick.
Workers at the Tack Fat factory in Phnom Penh - where a flourishing garment industry has grown up as Cambodia emerges from 20 years of Khmer Rouge dictatorship and civil war - start on just pounds 20 a month, although the local minimum wage is pounds 26. After training, the pay does rise to pounds 26 -but that is far below the pounds 44 a month poverty line set by local economists.
Many of the garments will cost more in the UK than these workers earn in a month. A pair of Cambodian-made shorts which were bought in Gap here by The Independent cost pounds 28, despite their labour cost being less than 20p.
Businesses, charities and politicians in Britain have already signalled their support for The Independent's Global Sweatshop campaign, which was launched yesterday. Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, called for "vigilante consumerism" against sweatshops. "Once you know what's behind the label, you can make informed choices," she said. "And never forget, however powerful the transnational corporations seem, the ultimate power lies with consumers."
Cafod, the Catholic aid agency, said the campaign had the organisation's wholehearted support: "The conditions described ... are unfortunately commonplace."
Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat development spokeswoman, said she was horrified by descriptions of working conditions. "This is gross abuseof human rights. If any of these companies are turning a blind eye, we ought to organise the most massive boycott of their brands."
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