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Friday, November 13, 1998 Published at 10:47 GMT


UK shops selling 'sweatshop' clothes

Bangladeshi workers: Low pay, long hours, dangerous conditions

The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development says a third of all clothes on sale in the UK's high street stores have been made in sweatshops in Asia.

In a report, Cafod also says some workers in Bangladesh are forced to work 13 hour shifts, with no time off, for as little as 60 pence a day.

The BBC's Lisa Costello: "Extremely low pay and dangerous conditions"
The charity is asking British retailers to adopt a code of conduct to guarantee minimum labour standards for workers who are frequently harassed, overworked and exposed to dangerous conditions.

Cafod's findings, which do not indentify specific factories or stores, reveal that female labourers in the garment industry in Bangladesh, for example, have been worked until they collapse from exhaustion.

'Slashed with razors'

Spokesman Duncan Green said: "I spoke to people who had worked 13-hour shifts every day for two months until they basically dropped in their tracks and had to go off on the sick.

[ image: Existing codes of conduct deal with child labour]
Existing codes of conduct deal with child labour
"If they didn't go back to work the next day then they would lose their jobs."

He said that he had also seen employees who had been slashed with razor blades for attempting join trade unions.

Some retailers like C&A, which is one of seven stores accounting for 40% of UK garment sales, have already introduced voluntary codes of conduct which deal with controversial issues like child labour.

But the codes do not address low pay or dangerous working conditions for adult workers.

Low pay

Chronically low rates of pay are seen as a major problem in countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India.

Mr Green said that a ski jacket sold by a high street retailer for £100 would, in some cases, earn the worker who made it less than 50 pence.

C&A spokesman Chris Williams defended his company's record on workers' rights.

"Each year C&A spends $3m dollars on its auditing function around the world, doing nothing but auditing factories," he said.

"I could see with my own eyes that things were not good - certainly not perfect - but in certain factories that had been significant improvements."

Ethical trade

Last year C&A withdrew 19 licences for abuse of its code of conduct.

Human rights groups have expressed concern that with more and more British retailers buying from overseas the situation will get worse rather than better.

Most recently Marks and Spencer announced its intention to start importing garments into the UK for the first time.

And with the looming threat of recession, the extra money that a company will have to invest to ensure fair labour standards from its overseas manufacturers may not be found.

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