Anti-poverty bands made with forced labour, Oxfam says

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Indy Politics

White wristbands sold by the Make Poverty History coalition were made in Chinese factories accused of using forced labour, it has been disclosed.

White wristbands sold by the Make Poverty History coalition were made in Chinese factories accused of using forced labour, it has been disclosed.

The fashionable white wristbands, worn by celebrities and politicians, including Tony Blair, were made for a coalition of charities as the symbol of its 2005 campaign to end extreme poverty.

Oxfam, Christian Aid and Cafod are among those charities selling the wristbands, made in rubber and fabric, for £1 each, of which 70p goes to the organisations.

But reports on two factories making the bands found the working conditions violated Chinese law and the standards of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which promotes better international working practices. "We were stupid," said Dominic Nutt at Christian Aid. "We didn't check it out, Cafod didn't check it out, and Oxfam didn't check it out."

At one of the factories, the Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company in Shenzen, employees were working a seven-day week for less than the minimum wage, with no annual leave, no right to freedom of association, and poor health and safety provisions, one report said.

At the Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company, workers were being paid below the minimum wage and having pay deducted for disciplinary reasons, the other report said. About three million bands have been sold since the campaign began in January, almost two million of them in the UK. Most of the bands are fabric and not made in the two factories, which produced silicon versions.

The reports have sparked disagreements between the charities, which are investigating why the factories were not given a thorough social audit. Christian Aid and Cafod say they placed orders with the factory in Shenzen after Oxfam gave them the go-ahead, having itself placed an order for 10,000 bands after it saw a preliminary questionnaire, which, it admits, had some "unanswered questions".

While awaiting results of a full audit, Oxfam abandoned Shenzen and began assessing the factory in Fujian. Christian Aid placed orders for 500,000 bands, and Cafod for 120,000. They say Oxfam failed to tell them it had stopped dealing with the Shenzen factory, although Oxfam insists it did.

Mr Nutt said: "We made mistakes. Oxfam had ... thought it had been done and we all took that in good faith. There is a good reason for that - Oxfam has very high standards."

Alison Fenney, the director of advocacy and communications at Cafod, said the charities were now working with both factories to improve labour standards. "If we were to just get up and leave, the workers' position would not change."

Colourful campaigns

* Yellow: The US cyclist Lance Armstrong began the craze, producing bands for his cancer charity.

* Blue: Beat Bullying. Launched by Radio 1 to coincide with an anti-bullying campaign. Also used for tsunami and prostate cancer campaigns.

* Black and white: Nike makes them in aid of a campaign to fight racism in football across Europe.

* Pink: Used by Breast Cancer Care, which provides support for those affected by breast cancer.

* Red: Support for campaigns ranging from heart disease and diabetes to HIV, to anti-smoking campaigns in the US.

* Orange: For the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Britain, and self-harmer charities in the US.

* Green: Used by Community Service Volunteers and the Ski Club of Great Britain.

* Magenta: Used by Diabetes UK.