Clean Clothes Campaign claim despite working overtime, many workers in the Ukraine make just EUR89 (US$103.28) a month, where a living wage would have to be five times that much

Clean Clothes Campaign claim despite working overtime, many workers in the Ukraine make just EUR89 (US$103.28) a month, where a living wage would have to be five times that much

Criticism has been levelled at footwear and garment factories in eastern and south-eastern Europe supplying brands and retailers such as Benetton, Esprit and Vera Moda – with new research suggesting endemic poverty wages and stark working conditions remain ongoing problems.

In a new report published today (9 November), human rights group the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) claims despite working overtime, many workers in the Ukraine, for example, make just EUR89 (US$103.28) per month, where a living wage would have to be five times that amount.

For the global fashion brands, the countries in east and south-east Europe are a "low wage paradise", with many brands touting the fact they are 'Made in Europe', suggesting this means "fair" conditions, says CCC. In reality, the group claims many of the 1.7m garment workers in the region live in poverty, face perilous work conditions, including forced overtime, and have accumulated significant debts.

"These European sweatshops offer cheap, yet experienced and qualified workers," it says. "Far too often the monthly wages earned by the mostly women workforce only just meet the legal minimum monthly wages, which vary between EUR89 in the Ukraine to EUR374 in Slovakia. An actual living wage, so that a family could pay for basic needs, would need to be about four to five times higher. For instance, this would mean earning around EUR438 a month in the Ukraine."

In 'Europe's Sweatshops', CCC claims the legal minimum wages in the region are actually below the respective official poverty lines and subsistence levels for these countries.

Interviews with 110 workers in footwear and apparel factories in Hungary, Serbia and Ukraine revealed that many are forced to work overtime just to reach their production targets, and hardly make more than the legal minimum wage.

The group claims many of the workers interviewed reported "perilous" working conditions such as exposure to heat and toxic chemicals, unhygienic conditions, unpaid and illegal forced overtime and abusive treatment by management. "Workers report feeling intimidated, and being under constant threat of termination or relocating," the CCC says.

"When Serbian workers ask why in the heat of summer there is no air-conditioning, why access to drinking water is limited, why they have to work again on a Saturday, the answer is always the same: 'There's the door'."

"It is clear that major international fashion brands are profiting substantially from this low wage system," adds CCC, with the factories featured in the report having produced for many global brands including Benetton, Esprit, GEOX, Triumph and Vera Moda.

"The Clean Clothes Campaign calls upon these brands to start paying a living wage, and to work together with their suppliers to eradicate the illegal and inhumane working conditions documented in the new report," it adds.