UK: TV footage claims new Bangladesh factory abuses
Nearly a year after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, an ITV documentary claims to have evidence of ongoing worker and safety concerns at factories making clothes for UK retailers N Brown and Arcadia.
An investigation for the Exposure programme 'Fashion Factories Undercover' - which is being broadcast tonight (6 February) - alleges garment workers, including young girls, were verbally and physically abused in Dhaka.
Exposure secretly filmed workers making shirts for plus-size brand JD Williams, which is owned by N Brown, as well as Arcadia-owned BHS, in a factory where the fire escape was padlocked shut.
Employees, including girls as young as 12, were allegedly being coerced into working 11-hour shifts at a factory said to be making jeans for Lee Cooper.
According to Exposure, the workers were threatened with being sacked and beatings to make sure orders were completed.
Workers were also being persuaded by managers to lie to buyers when they inspected the factory, with evidence claiming staff had to sign a register saying they completed safety training they had not.
In a statement sent to just-style, N Brown said the conditions at Vase Apparels, one factory filmed in the documentary, were "wholly unacceptable, illegal and morally reprehensible", adding it was not aware any of its products were being made there.
"The work had been contracted to Basic Shirts, which operates out of a different factory entirely, and which we had previously audited as part of our sourcing procedures," the internet and catalogue retailer noted.
"As a result of the findings of the Exposure programme we have terminated our contract with Basic Shirts."
Commission its buying agent would have earned on the orders subcontracted by Basic Shirts to Vase Apparels has been withheld, and will instead be donated to the Rana Plaza Victims Fund.
N Brown said it has requested the buying agency "urgently" checks all other factories used by the retailer in Bangladesh to "ensure that the type of behaviour uncovered at Vase Apparels does not happen again in any of the factories carrying out manufacturing on our behalf".
The retailer is among the more than 130 which have so far joined the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding document aimed at making the country's garment sector safe and sustainable.
It said its suppliers and manufacturers are required to adhere to a strict Code of Conduct and their compliance is rigorously monitored, adding: "Anything else is unacceptable and will lead to summary termination of contract."
"We are committed to improving worker safety and working conditions within the Bangladesh garment industry. We will continue to work through the auspices of the Bangladesh Accord to drive through the required cultural and ethical changes."
A separate statement from Lee Cooper added: "We, like many brands, employ a strict set of rules with our licensees to ensure they source responsibly.
"We have confirmed that if any Lee Cooper product was made at this factory, it was unauthorised or counterfeit product. We will take all steps to eliminate the unlawful production of Lee Cooper branded products."
Anti-poverty charity War on Want, meanwhile, said although some viewers may be shocked by the documentary, its findings come as no surprise to anti-sweatshop campaigners.
"Millions of people around the world, mostly women, are working long hours for poverty wages in unsafe conditions, making clothes for British high street retailers," said War on Want spokesperson Murray Worthy.
The group also stepped up its calls for UK high street retailers to join the Bangladesh Safety Accord "and work to end these appalling abuses in their supply chains."
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