Monday, December 08, 2008

The global durability of sweatshops – II

Life for garment workers in Bangladesh is a daily struggle for survival. A 2006 study by a British human rights group, War on Want, documented the “shameful” labor conditions at six factories producing clothes for three leading British retail chains. Now, a new War on Want study finds that nothing has changed in two years. Still the order of the day at those factories are extremely low wages, poor working conditions, arduous hours (up to 80 a week), and a “fierce” management opposition to unions.

“In fact,” says John Hilary, executive director of the War on Want, “given the damaging effects of the global food crisis, workers are now in an even worse position than they were before.”

Two of the retailers, Tesco and Asda, were founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, set up 10 years by companies, NGOs, and unions to improve labor conditions. The largest of the three, Primark, joined in 2006. In a press statement, Primark called the latest charges unsubstantiated and claimed that the practices of its suppliers are continually audited.

The new report, “Fashion Victims II,” criticizes the government and the retailers for relying on “the voluntary approach of ‘corporate social responsibility’” as the answer to sweatshops. Now War on Want insists that it is time “to stop companies from using sweatshop labor” by passing legislation regulating the operations of United Kingdom companies both in the UK and abroad.

War on Want’s Website supplies a sample letter to Members of Parliament urging them “to regulate UK companies and allow workers to seek justice in the UK.” In the United States, it is time to send the same letter, with Americanized changes, to members of both Houses of Congress and to the White House.

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