Hell for leather

Hell for leather

Gethin Chamberlain, for the Sunday Mirror, 18 December 2016

Theresa May’s £995 leather trousers are made in a Turkish factory by workers paid as little as £1.49 an hour.

The Prime Minister’s luxury Amanda Wakeley desert pants last week triggered a spat between No10 and former Tory Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Ms Morgan was barred from Downing Street after saying she would be unable to look her constituents in the eye if she had spent £995 on a garment.

But it later emerged Ms Morgan herself owns a leather Mulberry handbag that currently sells for £950.

A Sunday Mirror investigation can reveal both items are produced in Turkey by workers expected to toil 10 hours a day while earning well below a living wage.

It would take all their pay for three months to buy either item.

Our reporters tracked down the back-alley factory in Istanbul’s leather district where the PM’s luxury trousers are made.

The Pasha Leather workshop is tucked away in the rundown Güngören district, where pay is as low as £297 a month.

For the 10-hour day that is common in Turkey’s garment trade, that is just £1.49 an hour.

And it means that, despite the back-breaking work, many of those producing high-end goods for Western shoppers will spend their lives in abject poverty.

Engin Celik, national organiser for the Deriteks union, said some cannot even feed their families – and those who complain are fired on the spot.

He added: “There are 90,000 leather workers in Turkey, and only 2,500 are union members. Firms employ undocumented workers more and more.

“They are paid cash-in-hand and as soon as anybody tries to join a union they are sacked. Workers have no rights.”

Engin said UK designers look to Turkey for the cheap labour – and “to take ­advantage of employees who are not able to stand up for their rights.”

Ms Morgan ended up having her own hide tanned after blasting the trousers worn by the PM for a newspaper interview.

After learning of the cost, she said: “My barometer is always, ‘How am I going to explain this in Loughborough market?’ I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress.”

But after critics pointed out her high-end handbag, the row became so embarrassing that she pulled out of Friday’s episode of BBC comedy Have I Got News For You.

Producers then replaced her on comic Paul Merton’s team – with a handbag.

Ms Morgan’s bag is understood to have been made 12 years ago. We discovered the same model being produced in Turkey, in a factory used by upmarket label Mulberry.

The SF Leather plant, in Izmir, northern Turkey, recently fired 14 workers for joining the Deriteks garment workers’ union.

The minimum legal wage in Turkey is 1,300 Turkish lira (£297) but labour rights group the Clean Clothes Campaign claim workers need £900 a month to survive.

Workers at the SF Leather factory in Izmir making handbags for Mulberry are paid £343 a month – and were stunned to find out the retail price.

Mehmet Cin, 41, one of the staff sacked by the factory, told the Sunday Mirror up to five hours’ overtime was often imposed.

He said: “We decided to try and join a union because we looked online and saw how much the bags were sold for.

“One of them could pay three of our salaries for a month.

“We were making 300 or 400 of them in a day, getting paid next to nothing for this.”

Mulberry posted an operating profit of £6.1million this year.

Mehmet added: “I have a wife and two children, but I can barely afford to put the kids into school and pay the rent.

“Normally we started work at 7.15am and did not finish until 5.15pm. With some of the overtime we were forced to work I didn’t leave until 10.15pm some nights.”

Abdulhalim Demir, of the Turkish Clean Clothes Campaign, said the factory makes around 8,000 handbags for Mulberry every month. But he said: “When they join the union to ask for higher wages they are fired.

“Mulberry does nothing. What message does this send to their rich customers?”

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