"Girl Power" charity t-shirts sold in the UK are made in a factory in Bangladesh where over 100 impoverished workers claim to have been fired after going on strike to protest low wages.
The £ 28 clothing is sold online by F =, which aims to be "a source of inspiration and empowerment for girls", with £ 10 from each t-shirt donated to Worldreader, a charity that provides digital books to poor children in Africa. TV presenter Holly Willoughby recently reissued a photo of her in 2017, Emma Bunton and Spice Girl, wearing t-shirts.
The Guardian found that the clothes were made by the Bangladeshi company Dird Composite Textiles, where some workers earn just 42 pence an hour and complain of harassment. In one case, an employee was beaten on the orders of management and threatened with murder.
After being contacted by the guardian, F = stopped selling the t-shirts and Worldreader is committed to stop accepting donations "until the situation is resolved".
The machinists of the factory say that they have been fired en masse after hitting on wages in January. They are among the more than 7,500 employees in 27 factories in Bangladesh who have lost their jobs in recent weeks, according to union leaders, in a context of widespread protest and strike to impose a new minimum wage, which according to critics, is too low. garment industry of the country.
Bangladeshi textile workers block a road during a protest demanding higher wages in Dhaka. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP / Getty Images
The new minimum wage for the sector is 8,000 taka (£ 71.34) per month, which is half of what the 16,000 activists demanded and much less than the estimated minimum wage. Some high-level factory workers, who already earned more than 8,000 taka per month, have increased little, it was said.
Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of bangladesh The Center for Solidarity of Workers, who worked as a child in textile factories, said: "The huge number of lay-offs caused by wage demonstrations shows just how much the workers' voices have been repressed and their freedom to work. reduced expression.
"The dismissed workers know the law and their rights. In many cases, they were union leaders in their respective factories. These workers are chosen intentionally, so that there is no more voice in a factory to fight retaliation and form a union. "
Dird insists that the workers who left have resigned on their own.
The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), a member organization paid by brands to improve working conditions, is investigating after receiving a complaint about the tragic plight of workers at the Dird factory.
The news comes after the Guardian revealed last month that a "straightforward" worker at the same factory claimed that she had been beaten on the orders of management and threatened with murder.
The woman, who sat on the anti-harassment committee of the factory, said she had been deprived of her severance pay and that if she protested she would be "killed and her body put in a cardboard box", according to a report from the FWF.
The factory initially denied the charges, but later dismissed the human resources manager and paid the woman $ 68,250 in compensation, as a result of pressure from FWF.
A separate Guardian investigation last month revealed how Spice Girls T-shirts Bangladeshi women in another factory, paid 35 rupees per hour, sold coins to raise funds for Comic Relief. They claimed to have been harassed and forced to work up to 16 hours a day.
After Willoughby republished the photo of her and Bunton wearing the "girl power" t-shirt recently, F ='s Twitter feed shared the photo and indicated that the items were "in high demand".
The representatives of Willoughby and Bunton declined to comment, but it is understood that neither one nor the other was paid to wear the clothes or post them on social media.
The F = 's website states that they are "manufactured in a Fair Wear Foundation certified factory, which means that it is subject to good working conditions and fair wages. By using organic cotton, we are dramatically reducing water consumption. "
The shirts are made by Stanley / Stella, the same Belgian brand that made the Spice girls T-shirts The Guardian has established, through code printed on the label, that the garments were made at the Dird Composite factory in Bangladesh.
A spokeswoman for the FWF said, "More than 100 workers say they have lost their jobs. We actually met the factory and Stanley / Stella. There were discrepancies between what we heard from the factory management and the complainants' stories and their personal files.
"The factory is paying legal fees, such as wages owed, a provident fund and severance pay to all the workers involved. FWF and Stanley / Stella will follow closely. "
Danielle Newnham, the founder of F = with her sister, said: "We asked Stanley / Stella about the announced resignations. They explained that this had only happened recently and that the Fair Wear Foundation and the Stanley / Stella National Officer in Dhaka were investigating this. .
"To clarify, we print our t-shirts here in the UK, but we are always worried if someone is being abused – our mission is based on empowerment and if we receive evidence of it." abuse, we would immediately look for another provider.
"All the research we have done in the past has shown that Stanley / Stella was one of the best manufacturers in terms of durability and working conditions that they urged their suppliers to respect. So we used them. However, we are fully dedicated to empowerment so we closed our entire store while we looked at the issues. "
A Worldreader spokesman said: "Worldreader was saddened to learn the working conditions in the factory where these shirts were made. Before accepting donations from the sale of 'Girl Power' t-shirts, we signed a contract guaranteeing that the t-shirts were 'Fair Wear Certified'. Worldreader agreed with F = that we would stop accepting donations from the sale of these shirts until the situation is resolved. "
A spokesperson for Stanley / Stella said: "In all countries facing rapid economic development, progress still needs to be made on social compliance. Wages are still too low, even after a 40% to 50% increase last December, and overtime is often needed to maintain the normal living wage. Unfortunately, some discrimination based on sex can also be found. However, by producing clothes in Bangladesh, responsible European brands – such as Stanley / Stella – can bring positive change. "
Dird Group General Manager Nabeel Ud Daulah said the company was operating "in accordance with ethical and moral standards" and denied any removal or targeting of workers' representatives. He stated that the staff who had left his post had resigned "because they were not satisfied with the new pay structure announced by the Government of Bangladesh" and that "all the workers who have resigned have either received their financial rights, have been contacted to recover their dues. "
Regarding the benefits granted to workers, including scholarships for their children, insurance and bonuses, he added: "We take these allegations very seriously and have fully disclosed and cooperated with the Fair Wear Foundation. "