Topshop clothes made by workers paid 22 - 40 pence per hour
The Times On-line, Aug 07
Factories supplying Sir Philip Green, who is based in Monaco and is worth nearly £5 billion, employ hundreds of Sri Lankan, Indian and Bangladeshi workers in Mauritius where they labour for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Workers told The Sunday Times that they were recruited in their home countries by self-employed agents who promised wages up to five times what they receive. They pay up to £725 to get the job, equivalent to seven months’ earnings.
Once in Mauritius they receive as little as 22p to 40p an hour, about 40% below the local average wage. In at least one firm salaries are set according to race, with those from Bangladesh paid substantially less than Sri Lankans.
Green, rated seventh in The Sunday Times Rich List, largely avoids personal tax by paying dividends to his wife, Lady Tina, who lives offshore. In 2005 she was paid £1.2 billion, which amounted to £3.3m for every day of the year.
He told a reporter last week that he was having a marvellous time on his yacht off the coast of Turkey. A colour-ful character, he likes extravagant gestures. He spent an estimated £5m flying 100 friends to his 55th birthday party in the Maldives earlier this year where they were reportedly entertained by George Michael and Jennifer Lopez.
Confronted by The Sunday Times over the workers’ allegations, Green told one reporter that he had previously threatened to punch her colleague “on the nose . . . and throw him out of a window”.
The factories in Mauritius produce clothes for his firm, Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge. Last year Green signed up the super-model Kate Moss to design a range of clothes for Topshop.
Critics say the low wages and long hours amount to “slave labour”. Neil Kearney, of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation, said: “Because of the economic conditions of a country like Mauritius, companies are unable to attract local labour. Instead they recruit migrant workers, who pay a significant fee for the job. Many migrant workers who go to work in these garment factories are like slaves.”
Workers making his clothes, many of whom were fearful of talking to a reporter, described how they are kept in crowded dormitories and work from 7am until late. “When I go to bed at the end of the day, I lay down and weep,” said one woman.
“There is a lot of pressure on us to get our targets. If we do not reach the target of 50 pieces [segments of T-shirts] per hour, then we are sent back to our dormitories and suspended,” she claimed.
The woman, a Bangladeshi worker at Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile (CMT), which makes clothes for Topman, said she had to work 12-hour days for £64 a month.
A worker at Star Knitwear, which makes T-shirts for the Topshop Kate Moss range, said they were paid £112 a month - equivalent to about 40p an hour. The T-shirts are sold in Topshop for £12.
There is growing concern within the UK fashion industry over the use of Third World labour. Jane Shepherdson, who resigned from Topshop as brand director last year, said consumers cannot keep buying cheap clothes and “not ask where they come from”.
Green does not own factories which manufacture clothes for his high street stores. He instead uses a network of independently owned factories which make garments to specifications provided by the tycoon. The process is supervised by Arcadia staff.
Arcadia is one of the few high street retailers which has not signed up to the ethical trading initiative, which sets out minimum standards and whose signatories include Next, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Asda.
Instead, Green’s company has drawn up its own code of conduct for suppliers. This stipulates that employees should not work more than 48 hours per week. However, CMT confirmed last week that its workers were contracted for up to 70 hours, while Star said its employees usually worked 60 hours.
Yesterday Green said he was treating the allegations seriously and would investigate. He said that monitoring conditions in factories he did not own was a complicated process: “I am interested in getting things right. We have processes and procedures which all factories sign up to.
“I sent inspectors to factories to look at the working conditions, to see that they are not working in sweat-shops, that the working conditions are good. I can’t stand there and count how many hours people are working. Last night I interviewed a woman who was there four weeks ago. She said the factory was in excellent shape.
“You are telling me that factories are happy to breach our code of conduct. I’ve got to look into it.”
A spokesman for Moss declined to comment.