Dhaka workers earn 'as little as 7p an hour'

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The Independent Online

Foreign workers making clothes for high street fashion chain Primark are existing on as little as 7p an hour as living costs soar, a charity alleged today.

The anti-poverty charity War on Want said Primark was ignoring the rise in basic living costs in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, leaving workers worse off than they were two years ago.

It is calling on the British Government to introduce regulations to ensure a living wage for overseas suppliers and allow staff claiming exploitation to pursue claims through UK courts.

The charity said high inflation and increasing fuel costs in Bangladesh led to a 70 per cent increase in the price of low-quality rice. The cost of other cooking items including oil, onions, pulses, wheat and flour had soared by 30 per cent to 60 per cent.

Workers claimed they needed the equivalent of £44.82 a month to feed their families and pay for clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport.

War on Want said the average worker earned £19.16 a month, with the majority living in small, crowded shacks, many lacking plumbing and adequate washing facilities.

The report also claims workers making clothes for Asda and Tesco are paid similar amounts.

War on Want campaigns and policy director Ruth Tanner said: "Primark, Asda and Tesco promise a living wage for their garment makers. But workers are actually worse off than when we exposed their exploitation two years ago.

"The UK Government must bring in effective regulation to stop British companies profiting from abuse."

All three retailers denied the allegations, saying they were committed to the ethical treatment of suppliers.

Primark said evidence showed international trade, including in textiles, was an invaluable source of income for poor countries, and especially for women.

The retailer said in a statement: "The garment industry is raising the living standards of workers in the supply chain by providing employment which would otherwise simply not be available.

"Instead of working in subsistence agriculture - the only real alternative - women become wage earners with a regular income, often the only one in the household. That fact alone has done more to empower women in the developing world than anything else, something that is all too frequently ignored by organisations keen to promote agendas of their own.

"Far from seeking to exploit these people, the British garment industry is trying its hardest to improve living standards in these countries.

"Primark specifically is an ethical organisation, is committed to ethical sourcing and seeks to improve the conditions of workers in its supply chain.

"Primark is constantly reviewing and working on improvements to the working conditions of the people in its supply chain. We have an extensive auditing programme, supplier training programme and work with other third parties, including NGOs and governments, to ensure that our suppliers comply with their contractual commitments under our clear and strict Code of Conduct."

The statement added: "Our customers can continue to shop in Primark secure in the knowledge that the company works hard to ensure that high standards are met. We aim to give UK consumers unquestionable value for money, but never at the expense of the people who make our clothes."

An Asda spokeswoman said that "although workers in the factories we use are not employed directly by Asda, we recognise we have a shared responsibility with other retailers to protect and promote global worker welfare.

"Globally, there is no one agreed method of calculating a standard living wage. The local legislation in each country, including Bangladesh, may set minimum wages below what is considered a living or fair wage."

Asda said it was working directly with factory owners to improve conditions and efficiency in production techniques to reduce working hours.

The spokeswoman added: "It is important for us that we continue to offer our customers value product in these tough economic conditions but without any compromise to our ethical standards, ensuring George (one of Asda's clothing brands) customers can shop with a clear conscience.

"We would welcome the opportunity to work with War on Want to identify any issues and formulate a structured plan to help resolve this."

Tesco said: "The allegations are unsubstantiated and as War on Want have again decided not to engage with us on them we question whether their approach is the best way to tackle the complex issues surrounding the Bangladeshi garment industry.

"We take the issue of working conditions throughout our supply chain extremely seriously. We have no history of cut and running from suppliers while making clear we would work with any suppliers facing problems to help them improve worker conditions while ensuring that the interests of workers are protected.

"We insist on high working condition standards, going to great lengths to ensure our suppliers meet them."