British supermarket installs webcams in Bangladesh factories

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The Independent Online

British supermarket giant Asda has installed webcams in two factories in Bangladesh, allowing viewers to see working conditions there in a bid to show it does not use "sweatshop" labour.

 

The webcams are "part of our effort to increase the transparency of the Asda business and show customers where their products come from," the company's website says.

Asda, along with other Western clothing makers, has been targeted in the past by campaigners for employing people in Bangladesh on low wages and in poor conditions, but it says it is committed to quality and fairness.

The initiative, showing a clothing testing lab and the finishing section of a factory making trousers and shorts, was criticised Friday by one Bangladesh garment industry group for "spying" on workers.

"It is sort of spying on us. We are working to further improve the working conditions at our factories... but buyers do virtually nothing," Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, vice president of the association, told AFP.

The webcam idea is a publicity stunt "to build goodwill" with Asda's customers, not a practical step toward improving conditions for workers, said Mosherefa Mishu, head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum.

"I don't think that buyers are worried about the working condition of our factories," she said.

Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories manufacture low-cost clothing for most of the world's retail giants including Asda's American parent Wal-Mart, Swedish high-street chain H&M, French supermarket Carrefour and Levi Strauss.

The South Asian country of 144 million is one of the cheapest manufacturing destinations on Earth, largely because minimum factory worker wages are set at just 25 dollars a month.

Conditions on the factory floor are cramped and frequent accidents - such as a February fire that killed 21 people at a factory producing knitwear for H&M - have long been a thorn in the side of image-savvy Western companies.

Asda has also installed webcams in its head office in Leeds, England, in one of its carrot processing plants and at an automated cow-milking machine in Lockerbie, Scotland.

The webcam footage in the Bangladesh factories was temporarily unavailable on Friday.

It can be seen at http://your.asda.com/georgecams

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