The 'Girl Power' T-shirt has been removed from sale on the F= website
The 'Girl Power' T-shirt has been removed from sale on the F= website

‘Girl Power’ T-shirts removed from sale amid claims of exploitation in Bangladeshi factory

‘We are always concerned if anyone is treated badly,’ says the company who sold the T-shirts

Sabrina Barr
Friday 01 March 2019 17:57

T-shirts bearing the "Girl Power" slogan have been removed from sale following allegations that workers were being exploited at the factory where they are made.

Sold by the F= website which aims to "provide modern day women with inspiration, motivation, and empowerment through the success stories of women", the garments were retailing at £28, although £10 was donated to Worldreader, a charity that provides people in developing countries with access to a digital library.

None of the profits went to F=.

While the slogans were printed in the UK, the organic cotton T-shirts were made by Belgian brand Stanley/Stella in Bangladesh in a factory owned by a firm called Dird Composite Textiles.

More than 100 workers in the factory were recently relieved of their jobs following a strike this January, which saw thousands of workers in Bangladesh protest low wages, according to an investigation by The Guardian which also claimed that some workers at the factory earn approximately 42p an hour.

It also alleged that a female employee had been beaten under the orders of managerial staff.

Responding to the allegations one of the co-founders of F=, Danielle Newnham, posted an open letter on the company's website.

Along with her fellow co-founder and twin sister Natalie Bardega, she said she had been assured the factory in which the T-shirts were being made had been certified by the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) - a non-profit organisation committed to helping workers within the garment industry.

"To clarify, we print our T-shirts here in the UK but, we are always concerned if anyone is treated badly," she wrote. "Our entire mission is based on empowerment and if we receive evidence of poor treatment, we would look for another supplier immediately."

The pair had chosen Stanley/Stella as their T-shirt manufacturer following "months of research", and were assured of the company's commitment to sustainability, she added.

She also addressed a picture shared on Instagram of Holly Willoughby and Emma Bunton wearing the "Girl Power" T-shirts, stating that neither were paid to endorse or advertise the products.

The entire shop on the F= website was temporarily closed following the allegations.

In a separate interview with The Independent Ms Newham said that F= have been told that the 100 workers who were allegedly sacked from the factory actually resigned from their jobs.

Prior to the investigation "we had no contact with either Stanley/Stella or the factory itself," she said. "We print our T-shirts in the UK - our printer buys them in wholesale from Stanley/Stella in Europe. We did a lot of research when we started four years ago to ensure we found the most green and conscious suppliers we could and Stanley/Stella came out on top."

FWF told The Independent that Stanley/Stella was dedicated to "improving working conditions" in the garment industry.

"We understand that that is difficult to grasp for consumers who just read about violations in this factory but the garment industry is complex, global, fragmented and rarely transparent," it said in a statement. "Stanley/Stella is one of those brands that want to break the vicious cycle and improve how our clothes are made. And we think they should be supported for that."

It added that the along with Bangladeshi factory in question, it was investigating the case and the findings would be published on its website when "all facts are clear".

It also clarified that the FWF is not able to certify brands or factories, as previously suggested.

"In high-risk countries like Bangladesh, serious problems will inevitably be found in most supply chains," it said. "Harassment and low wages are endemic in Bangladeshi garment factories. When issues arise, FWF requires that its member brands address these problems head-on."

Stanley/Stella told The Independent that it was doing the best it can to "select the right factories", to "monitor them closely", and to address any queries raised.

Regarding the issue of poor pay at the Bangladeshi factory, it said it was "unfair" to assume that Dird Composite Textiles and Stanley/Stella are the only companies paying its workers low wages.

"Our factories pay more than the minimum to most of their workers. Some factories probably pay even less than the minimum wage, and that would probably deserve an in-depth investigation," it said in a statement. "About the 100 workers, we are still investigating this with FWF to understand if it was well by volunteer resignation."

Worldreader, the literacy charity that's received donations from the sales of the T-shirts for the past four years, told The Independent that it was "saddened" upon hearing of the investigation.

"Prior to accepting donations from the sales of "Girl Power” T-shirts, we entered into a contract that ensured the shirts were 'Fair Wear certified'," it said. "Worldreader has agreed with F=, our donor who printed the shirts, that we will cease accepting donations from the sale of these shirts until the situation is resolved."

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In 2014, gender equality charity the Fawcett Society investigated claims that a T-shirt promoted by the organisation adorned with the slogan: "This is what a feminist looks like" was being made by female workers in Mauritius being paid 62p an hour.

The £45 T-shirt was manufactured in collaboration with Elle magazine and was designed and produced by high street brand Whistles.

In September 2018, it was announced that the minimum wage in Bangladesh had increased to 8,000 taka a month (£72).

The Independent has contacted Dird Composite Textiles for further comment.

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