Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

Press release: New report on labour rights in Pakistan exposes gross failings in the global fashion industry

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[1] 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[2]. 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[3]. 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:

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Hangingonbyathread-2023.pdf

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/13/karachi-fire-pakistan-workplaces

[3] 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
anna@labourbehindthelabel.org , +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.


Photos available:


Paid NEXT to nothing

Paid NEXT to nothing

 Workers Paid NEXT 
 to nothing
in covid 
 factory closure 
 fight back 

When the pandemic hit, brands stopped ordering from factories and many shut down without paying workers. The Wai Full workers are continuing to fight for their pay and severance. This is their case. 

In January 2021, mid-pandemic, workers at Wai Full Textiles in Cambodia started to be laid off. The factory officially closed in May 2021, and workers were paid a small sum to cover their annual leave, but $500,000 was left outstanding.

Female-led union, CATU from Cambodia, contacted members in the factory and launched a campaign for justice, calling for the workers to get their pay outs. Wai Full Garments, the company, went bankrupt and dissolved all its assets and, after some months, its parent company in Hong Kong also dissolved. The workers decided their only option was to reach out to the brands. 

Superdry, NEXT and ASOS were contacted by LBL on behalf of the workers in Autumn 2021. A long discussion ensued, with meetings with the brands to verify the facts, to hear from the union, to explore legal options. By winter 2022, the brands asked for a confidential sum at which workers would settle and discussed how to get this to workers. This option was discussed also at length. Yet as a final kick in the teeth, at the end of this long process, NEXT and Superdry turned around to say they didn’t think it was their duty to pay. 

We are now launching a campaign to call on NEXT and Superdry to change their minds and contribute towards the sum that Wai Full workers are owed.

While this campaign may be about one small group of workers and their fight for justice, this underdog struggle is also emblematic of the huge COVID injustice that left women of colour at the bottom of supply chains globally, owed billions in wages and legal pay outs. While fashion minimised its losses and moved on, workers were left to pay the cost. This small case is symptomatic of the wider struggle for covid justice. 

Why should brands pay?

Fashion companies choose to make clothes at arms length – in factories where they aren’t the employer but do get all the benefits of cheap labour and low regulations. So when things go wrong, can they simply wash their hands of the issues? Human rights guiding principles for business suggest that brands need to show that they have made every effort to protect people who make their goods from human rights violations, and take steps to remedy issues where their business has caused or contributed towards that harm. Here is the difficult part – as there isn’t financial transparency the workers don’t have the financial data to show that by pulling out of a factory, the group of brands in this case ’caused or contributed’ towards the factory closing.

To us it is fairly clear that in the pandemic when they stopped ordering this contributed towards the factory’s decision to close and to not pay its workers. But because we can’t show it, brands say they don’t have a duty to provide remedy to the workers. Yet why should the workers be left with nothing? We believe the brands should at the very least contribute towards the money owed to the workers as a statement of principle. Workers should be paid their legally owed pay and severance for the duration of their employment. 

In the end, if the brands don’t pay, the workers will be left with nothing, and this isn’t right. They should pay because it is the right thing to do.

Bangladeshi garment workers need a wage hike

Bangladeshi garment workers need a wage hike

 Bangladeshi   garment workers   need a significant 
 wage hike 


Labour Behind the Label is campaigning in support of a wage increase in Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi unions’ 23,000 taka minimum wage demand.

For the first time in five years, the Bangladeshi government has formed a Wage Board to revise the minimum wage for the country’s ready made garment sector, which employs roughly 4 million workers.

The current minimum wage of 8,000 taka (roughly £57 a month) was already insufficient for a decent living when it came into force in 2019. Since then, workers have had to endure the additional pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent high inflation without seeing their wages increase at all.

A new monthly minimum wage demand of 23,000 taka (£164 approximately) has been calculated based on an extensive cost of living study done by the Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies and has been unanimously supported by trade unions in the country as well as the IndustriALL global union. Clean Clothes Campaign partners in Bangladesh do not hold seats in the Wage Board, and neither do any other independent trade unions, but they will organise local campaign actions to voice this demand.

This year’s minimum wage revision takes place at a difficult time for the Bangladeshi labour rights movement. The recent murder of trade unionist Shahidul Islam is a stark reminder of the incredibly repressive environment in which wage negotiations take place. In the past, the minimum wage revisions led to a shocking amount of turmoil. In 2018 one worker was killed, dozens were left injured and thousands lost their jobs.

Labour Behind the Label stands in solidarity with unions in Bangladesh fighting for a higher and more just minimum wage. We urge all involved parties to respect the right of trade unions to peacefully and collectively campaign for their wage demands.

Why are wages so low?

 The Bangladesh textile industry has long marketed itself based on its low pricing. Fierce competition with other Asian economies, and downward pressure from brands’ purchasing practices, have suppressed wages in Bangladesh year on year. The Bangladesh labour law only requires the wage board to convene once every 5 years. This has led to very slow wage growth. Unionisation rates are also low due to the active suppression of freedom of association, by employers and by state actors. So when unions come to the table their power to achieve change is limited.

A new wage is desperately needed. Official Consumer Price Index inflation rates show an increase in recent months of than 9%. Unofficial predictions however are much more abnormal. Some of the main food prices have increased by nearly 100%. Current average take home pay (around 12800 taka, including overtime) is more than 10% less than the national poverty line.

Adidas – support women in your supply chain

Adidas – support women in your supply chain


This action involves you using your social media accounts to share one of the below images and tag @adidas to say that they must do more to support women workers’ rights and ensure they are paid. 


  1. Choose a campaign image below, and save it to your phone
  2. Click on the button to open up a suggested tweet (you need to be logged in to Twitter),
  3. Add the image
  4. Send the tweet!

Not on twitter? Tag on instagram or facebook instead


What you need to do:

1. Choose an image from the ones above, then click on it to save or download (this will work differently on different devices – try right clicking on a computer, and click and hold on a phone)

2. Go to instagram or facebook and create a new post, selecting the image you downloaded from the selection above

3. Put this text into your caption:

Adidas use slick marketing campaigns to sell clothes and convince consumers that they support women. The truth is workers around the world in @adidas suppliers testify that wages are not enough to support their families and live with dignity. This #IWD I stand with their workers.

I’m calling on @adidas to change, actually support women rather than just say they do, and sign an agreement with unions to commit to wages, severance pay and the freedom to organise for women in their factories.

4. Then tag the photo with these accounts: