Seriously Poor Working Conditions for Factory Workers in India Supplying Major UK High Street Retailers
Overworking, low-pay, abusive management and a lack of breaks are just some of the unfair working conditions these women in India making clothing for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Ralph Lauren are experiencing.
When we think of poor working conditions in the UK, we tend to think about bad bosses, dealing with difficult customers or uncomfortable chairs; to name some common frustrations. In this respect we are very, very lucky. It’s often easy to forget that a high standard of living, fair wages and a commitment to employee wellbeing were not always a given in the UK.
There are several people who see workplace health and safety as unnecessary mollycoddling exercise, that people should be responsible for their own wellbeing. The treatment of these workers in India and the conditions they suffer in should serve as a stark example. It shows how bad things can become when employers are not held accountable for their staff wellbeing, especially when employees live in poverty.
Reporting the Poor Working Conditions in Factories in India
The report by the BBC shines a light on the poor working conditions of several workers in different garment factories in rural South India. In conjunction with the charity Action Aid, who support hundreds of female clothing factory workers in the region, the report uncovered evidence of forced overtime, verbal abuse and a culture of production over people. These testimonies, put forward anonymously to protect workers, reveal a breaking of what are already considerably loose labour laws. And with absolutely no trade unions to support them.
“They’ve increased our workload. We’re forced to stay late to finish it – or they yell at us and threaten to fire us. We’re scared as we don’t want to lose our jobs.”
An unnamed, former owner of a clothing supplier told the BBC that UK brands are pushing for cheaper clothing. This is causing suppliers to cut corners to meet demand. With poverty already rife in the region, staff have no choice to stick-out these poor working conditions if they want to be able to feed their families, which they are already struggling to do.
“It’s the brand who wants to maximize the profit. So, they push you to a level wherein you have to do the exploitation in order to survive”
The person in question also revealed the process of auditing to be a corrupt “sham.” As the factories are aware of the incoming auditors, they can make everything in line with the law. He said that “a lack of responsibility by the brands makes it hard to stamp out that exploitation.” The factory supplying Ralph Lauren has of course denied all aspects of the allegations, citing it to be compliant with the law.
Brands Should be Responsible for Poor Working Conditions
A spokesperson for Labour behind the Label, who campaign for garment workers’ rights worldwide, said it was the responsibility of brands to ensure fair and safe working conditions.
A senior lecturer who researches global supply chains at Bath University argued that labour laws in the area would not address this exploitation, and that change needed to come from the brands themselves:
“They may not run the factory, but they get all the benefits”
Most of the brands in question have responded with shock to the reports. Many of these UK retail companies have already taken steps to address and review their relationship with these suppliers. However, some have disputed certain accounts, like those on restricted toilet and water breaks.
Why Are So Many High-profile Brands Outsourcing to Impoverished Workforces?
Profit. It’s the mark of a successful business and requires close attention to the bottom line. Staff supplying these retailers in the UK would benefit from higher wages and better workplace safety. But the cost of this for some brands is often too high.
Consumers have come to expect a certain bracket of price, especially as wealth inequality has widened in the UK. Most retailers are simply meeting that demand by resorting to outsourcing internationally. However, payslips seen by the BBC reveal that women in this report earn a meagre £2.50 a day. Many of the items they make can sell for hundreds. None of the brands spoken to in the report commented on the level or fairness of pay.
Fast fashion has been exposed in recent years for its negative impact across the world. As well as forcing poor working conditions upon staff, like these in the report, it has a staggeringly high carbon footprint, contributing greatly to climate change.
The questions for retailers are whether the human cost is too high and if they can justify the profit margins.
Fighting for Employee Health & Safety in the UK
We’d wish to improve the working lives for all people across the world. However, our job is to help workers of the UK who have become victim of workplace accidents or industrial disease. The UK has a much better safety record than that of India – but it isn’t perfect. There are several factors in play that can make a company negligent in its treatment of staff wellbeing.
If you or someone you love has fell victim to poor working conditions, our solicitors** can help you seek personal injury compensation. Contact us for a free, no-obligation discussion on 08082391859 and find out if you can claim on a no win, no fee* basis.
If you would like to donate to any of the charities mentioned in this article, you can find places to do so on their respective websites.
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