The Fashion Industry III – Exploitation by the Numbers

From War on Want:

War on Want’s new report with Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2007, highlights the appalling conditions and stark injustices within the high street fashion industry. UK high street retailers do not pay developing country garment workers a living wage, whilst reaping vast profits and paying spokesmodels and CEOs millions of pounds.A living wage is one that enables workers and their dependents to meet their needs for nutritious food and clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport, as well as allowing for a discretionary income. Without a living wage, workers remained mired in a poverty trap that prevents them from fulfilling basic dreams such as raising a family, and condemns future generations to a similar fate.

The report highlights the hypocrisy of UK retailers, including Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia group, Tesco and Marks and Spencer for giving huge rewards to their chiefs and models compared to poverty wages for employees who produce their clothes and contribute to their huge and growing profits:

* Topshop owner Green’s £1.2 billion dividend was enough to double the salaries of Cambodian’s whole garment workforce for eight years.

* A worker making clothes for Green’s Arcadia group in Mauritius would need to toil for almost 4,000 years to gain the £3 million model Kate Moss earned for her Topshop clothing range.

* The £4.6 million in salary and bonuses for Tesco’s chief executive Sir Terry Leahy could pay the annual wages of more than 25,000 Bangladeshi garment employees who supply its stores, based on average wages of about £15 a month.

* Coleen McLoughlin, the fiancee of footballer Wayne Rooney, collected a reported £1.5 million as a spokesmodel for George at Asda – clothes made in Bangladesh for five pence an hour. Coleen’s £3000 Hermes Birkin handbag cost more than a Bangladeshi garment employee could earn in 16 years.

* The £2.3 million in salary and bonuses for M&S chief executive Stuart Rose would pay the annual wages of almost 12,000 Sri Lankan garment workers.

The systemic problems within the worldwide garment industry and the failure of the voluntary approach to improve conditions for exploited workers highlight the need for government legislation to prevent UK companies from abusing workers’ rights overseas. War on Want calls on the UK government to implement legislation that guarantees fair and decent treatment of overseas workers.

clipped from
LONDON (Reuters) – Some fashion retailers are not doing enough to help lift workers who make their clothes out of poverty, a report published by two charities said on Friday.

War on Want and Labour Behind the Label surveyed 34 retailers and said 12 firms and brands “cold-shouldered the only detailed study on the case for garment employees to receive a living wage.”

It said the 12, which included well-known high street brands, deserved “severe criticism and consumer scepticism.”

The charities said the firms failed to accept the need for overseas garment workers to be paid a “living wage” by their suppliers, had little or no information available on pay levels, and failed to respond to questions posed by the authors.

The study called “Let’s Clean Up Fashion” was published on the eve of London Fashion Week.

The study builds on a similar one issued 12 months ago giving firms the chance to say how they have tried to improve workers’ wages and conditions.

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