Migrant garment workers in factories in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia making clothes for western fashion brands are facing state oppression and exploitation by their employers, according to claims in a new report released today (14 May).

Zara, H&M, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Levi Strauss, Timberland and Benetton, Nike, Puma and Reebok are among firms sourcing from the south-east Asian factories  
according to the 'Restricted Rights' report from charity War on Want.

It notes that Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia have focused on developing export-oriented manufacturing industries that rely heavily on migrant labour. And as part of efforts to become globally competitive, governments in these countries have created policies that concentrate these industries in areas set apart from mainstream society.

This makes it difficult for workers to get protection or support when they try to exercise their rights against exploitation, War Against Want says.

Rural women from Cambodia have migrated to work in these areas, while in Malaysia and Thailand, migrants from nearby countries have travelled there in seek of jobs.

According to War on Want, young women migrants from rural areas represent almost 90% of garment workers in Cambodia, with 10-hour shifts earning just 20p an hour, or GBP50-55 per month.

Nine out of ten Cambodian women interviewed for the report said that despite sharing a room with four or five others, they needed to cut back on essential food in order to send any money home to their families.

Meanwhile, Burmese migrant workers in Thailand receive just GBP1.40 for 10-11 hours work, less than half the minimum wage. Around half the employees interviewed in Thailand lived in dormitories in the factory grounds, where conditions were often overcrowded and unsanitary.

"Western brands promote themselves as ethical and responsible towards the people who make their goods," said Laia Blanch, international programmes officer at War on Want. "But they maximise their profits and minimise costs by exploiting migrant women workers as cheap labour. It is high time the British government stopped this abuse."

The charity is calling on the UK justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to establish a business, human rights and environment commission to protect rights for workers in British retailers' supply chains.