The Sunday Mirror investigates true cost of school kit. We have removed the names to protect the workers who spoke to us
Gethin Chamberlain for The Sunday Mirror, 12 September 2015
Two of Britain’s top stores are selling school uniforms made by workers paid 25p an hour doing shifts that break employment laws.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s both use a factory in Bangladesh to make their ranges, including polo shirts and jumpers which are sold for between £3 and £4.
They have carried on contracts with the DIRD Composite Textiles firm even though it was dumped by Russell Brand earlier this year after he found out about the pitiful wages of workers making his £60 promotional sweatshirts.
Next, which also sells some uniforms from the 6,000-worker factory, vowed to look at conditions there after admitting staff had to put in “unacceptable” overtime. They sometimes toil more than 70 hours a week for just £51 a month. The country’s weekly legal limit is 60 hours.
One mum, 28, is among many DIRD workers who want parents in Britain to be aware of their poverty. She said: “Look at the irony, I make school uniforms and can’t send afford to send my daughter to school.”
Most employees live in slums, with whole families in one room. Children often have to fend for themselves. Many who do go to school leave early to find work to help the family.
A stitcher, 33, said his basic daily wage was 236 takas – £1.97 – and that even with long overtime he only earned £76 a month. “It’s a low wage. My elder son goes to school in his one uniform through the year,” he said. The dad-of-two lives with his wife, 25, in a one-room tin shack. She said: “We can’t afford to educate our other son.”
A clothes finisher told us her fixed monthly salary was £56.77. She claimed: “We are often forced to work overtime to avoid the factory paying charges for late delivery. They make people work four to six hours of overtime a day.” For each hour of overtime, they get 34p.
A cleaner, 35, said: “We agree to do it only thinking of our children.”
He said a school uniform in Bangladesh costs about £15, including a tie and shoes – the equivalent of more than 60 hours work at the factory. Most DIRD workers send their children to government schools which offer poor education. Some try to give their children a chance by sending them to private schools charging £4 to £12 a month. But this is too much for many parents. The stitcher said: “We can’t afford it.”
UK shoppers often salve their consciences about these factories with the thought that the cost of living is cheaper in Bangladesh. But these workers’ basic wages amount to barely a quarter of the £216 a month living wage set by the Asia Floor Wage consortium.
Last year a manufacturer’s audit found DIRD workers did more than 70 hours a week – 10 over the legal limit of six eight-hour days with 12 hours’ overtime.
Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s are founder members of the Ethical Trading Initiative which promotes global workers’ rights.
Tesco’s F&F polo shirts and jumpers and Sainsbury’s TU range of trousers, jumpers, polo shirts and cardigans are all made at DIRD. Tesco said: “We accept there are still some challenges to reduce working hours.”
Sainsbury’s added: “We recognised more needs to be done to reduce overtime and since the beginning of the year we have seen improvements in this area.”
Next said “unacceptable overtime” had been identified at the factory near Dakha and added: “We’re already working to improve the situation.”