For immediate release: 28 September 2023
“Urgent wake-up call” for western high street brands using factories routinely violating workers’ rights, ignoring minimum wages and health and safety laws
- New report, “Hanging On By a Thread”, exposes gross exploitation of garment workers in Pakistan
- Global high street brands including GAP, adidas, Asda, H&M, M&S, Puma, Levi’s, Primark, Boohoo and Inditex (Zara etc) sourcing from suppliers where worker rights are routinely undermined are implicated in report and called on to act
- One in three workers paid less than the £68 per month minimum wage, with excessive hours routinely enforced
- Families of injured and killed workers from working conditions reportedly not paid compensation, with auditing shown to routinely fail to identify serious risks
- “A matter of time before another disaster,” say experts amidst declining health and safety standards at factories reported
- Mass inflation also squeezing workers at the bottom of the fashion supply chain
- Report produced by garment worker solidarity group Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with international human rights law firm and foundation Global Rights Compliance
[London: 28 September 2023]: A new report released today has exposed the increasing exploitation of garment workers in Pakistan, revealing details of how factories used by some of the world’s biggest fashion brands are routinely violating minimum wage requirements, enforcing excessive hours, ignoring health and safety concerns, and avoiding compensation for injured and killed workers.
The report, by garment worker solidarity group Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with international human rights law firm and foundation Global Rights Compliance, found that the informalisation of worker’s jobs is leading to illegally low pay, mandatory unpaid overtime and the absence of secure contracts.
This announcement comes as Pakistan is experiencing mass inflation with rates hitting 36% in April 2023, the highest rate for nearly 5 decades. Workers at the bottom of the supply chains are being hit the hardest with an erosion of purchasing power and an exacerbation of already challenging living conditions.
The report reveals that factories have been exploiting workers by employing them in less formal ways to reduce risks and cut costs. Findings show factories paying over a third of workers surveyed less than the minimum wage, equivalent to £68 a month, while nearly two thirds of workers weren’t being paid the agreed rate for enforced overtime.
Workers reported that they were being shifted to piece rate contracts where they are only compensated for what they make, resulting in less earnings and increased hours. One worker said: “There are more workers working on piece rate than before. There used to be 7,000 workers working in our factory, but now only 4,000 are working as salaried workers. The rest have been fired and most of these were rehired on a piece rate…Workers protested outside the factory but to no avail.”
Health and safety violations were found to be endemic at the factories studied, with auditing routinely failing to identify violations and flag risk.
One worker employed in a factory supplying UK and European brands stated “Our workplace is not a very safe place. Due to cotton dust and fumes, workers find it difficult to breathe. Overlock machines are particularly bad in this regard. A worker died but the doctor was asked that working conditions should not be mentioned as the cause of death. His family was not paid any compensation”.
The shockingly poor health and safety checks risk a repeat of previous tragedies such as the Ali Enterprises disaster, where on 11 September 2012 a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, burned down, killing over 250 workers. Only weeks before the fire, the building had been certified by a private social auditing firm as compliant with international labour standards.
Fashion brands GAP, adidas, Asda, H&M, M&S, Puma, Levi’s, Primark, Boohoo and Inditex (Zara etc) were all found to be sourcing from suppliers featured in the report, despite claiming to use social auditing to check standards. Authors of the report expressed extreme concern that these auditing processes seemed to completely miss the human rights violations, exposed by the report, and furthermore brands are doing nothing to remedy the urgent situation.
Low wages combined with high inflation have resulted in 70% of workers surveyed reporting finding it difficult to cover household expenses such as electricity bills. 21% said they were not sending their children to school because they could no longer afford it.
Anna Bryher, Policy Lead for Labour Behind the Label said: “In the face of economic crisis, why should the people at the bottom of supply chains pay the cost? Children are being thrown into poverty and not sent to school because wages at these factories aren’t keeping pace with rising costs. This isn’t just a problem for Pakistan. In Bangladesh too, workers are reporting they cannot afford to buy meat or even eggs in the month, because inflation is outstripping wage growth.
“Fashion brands make huge profits sourcing clothes from factories across Asia where families are being pushed into extreme poverty. Brands must act to stop this exploitation and ensure the people who make their clothes are paid enough to live with dignity.”
The report provides recommendations on how fashion brands can ensure that garment workers’ rights are upheld at their supplier factories:
- Stop the increasing informalisation in factories in Pakistan
- Ensure the minimum wage is paid for all workers and adopt progressive policies that work towards payment of a living wage
- Fix monitoring and complaints mechanisms by installing effective worker driven complaints mechanisms in suppliers and improving and publishing audit reports.
- Ensure health and safety for Pakistan’s garment and textile workers, by signing the Pakistan accord and ensuring true worker representation on safety committees.
- Ensure all workers are recognised by mapping and publishing full supply chain data, and ensure rights are afforded at all levels
- Take a zero tolerance approach to workplace gender-based violence and harassment and ensure that anti-harassment committees are established in all supplier factories
- Ensure Social Security is accessible to all workers, and that all workers are registered with national institutions including those for pension and healthcare.
- Actively promote genuine freedom of association, and collective bargaining which is key to improvements in all other labour rights
Lara Strangways, Head of Business and Human Rights at Global Rights Compliance said:
“The findings of this report should be an urgent wake-up call to brands, showing gross failings in their due diligence processes to identify human rights and labor rights violations in the making their products. Social auditing is failing to pick up violations and is clearly not fit for purpose. Brands must act with urgency to reassess their approach to sourcing and engage in discussion on appropriate remedy with the labour movement. If they fail to do so, it is only a matter of time before we see another disaster, in which they would have played a part.”
Notes to editors:
 The IMF bailed out Pakistan from default in June. Bailout loan conditions included ‘pro investor’ provisos that energy price subsidies be cut, and this has hit the lowest income workers in Pakistan hard. Petrol prices have rocketed and the cost of electricity has doubled. One worker with a PKR 25,000 monthly salary reported receiving an electricity bill for 40,000 rupees. These kind of increases only serve to further push workers into poverty. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/sep/05/pakistan-uproar-violent-protests-soaring-fuel-electricity-prices#:~:text=The%20cost%20of%20electricity%20has,to%20305%20rupees%20this%20month
Press release issued on behalf of Global Rights Compliance and Labour Behind the Label.
For further information, and interview opportunities, please contact:
Harriet Shearer / Harvey Presence / Will Heron
The Communication Group plc
020 7630 1411
Anna Bryher, Labour Behind the Label
email@example.com , +44 7786 832 035
Available for Interview:
Zehra Khan, Home Based Women Workers Federation, in Pakistan
Anna Bryher, Labour Behind the Label, in UK
Lara Strangways, Global Rights Compliance, in UK
’Hanging On By a Thread’
This new report produced by Labour Behind the Label in collaboration with Global Rights Compliance is based on findings of a baseline study for a project aimed at promoting and advancing international labour rights in Pakistan, hosted by Global Rights Compliance.
The survey supporting the findings of the report was conducted in early 2023 through in-depth interviews with 273 workers. 249 of the workers interviewed work in the textile factories exporting to the UK, EU or US, while 24 were homebased workers. It covered 62 workplaces, with 3-6 respondents interviewed per workplace.
Labour Behind the Label
Labour Behind the Label is a not-for-profit cooperative company founded in 2001. It supports garment workers’ efforts worldwide to improve their working conditions through awareness raising, research and lobbying in support of workers’ demands for improved pay and conditions.
Global Rights Compliance
Global Rights Compliance was founded in 2013. It is an international law firm and foundation specialising in international humanitarian law, international criminal law and business and human rights. The company’s mission is to provide justice through the innovative application of international law. The Business and Human Rights team are engaged across a number of multi-jurisdictional projects and have experience working with a variety of clients, ranging from industry bodies and companies through to INGOs, CSOs and governments.