Gethin Chamberlain for the Daily Mail with Lucy Osborne and Ian Drury, 5 June 2015
Millionaire comic sells £60 sweatshirts from workers earning just 25p an hour
Comic claims sweatshirts are ‘screen printed and produced in the UK’
In fact label stitched into lining reveals they are made in Bangladesh
Factory staff described working 11-hour shifts for as little as £1.98 a day
Says profits go to good causes, so why is just £1.37 donated from £65 top?
The only ‘good cause’ Brand will disclose his own cafe in Shoreditch
Russell Brand is selling sweatshirts made in Third Word factories by workers earning just 25p an hour, it emerged last night.
The multi-millionaire comedian and self-styled revolutionary claims the company that provides him with the £60 sweatshirts sold on his website is ‘ethical’ and works to the ‘highest environmental standards’.
Brand – who claims to be an anti-capitalist who advocates the overthrow of ‘corporate tyranny’ – also promises customers that all profits from his merchandise go to charity and that he ‘doesn’t make a penny’.
On his website he says they are screen printed and produced in the UK.
In fact, the plain sweatshirts are being made by impoverished slum-dwellers in Bangladesh who are forced to work long hours for very little pay.
Their 25p-an-hour wages are barely a quarter of the living wage and some receive as little as 10p for each sweatshirt they make.
Last night, politicians and campaigners called Brand a ‘grade-A hypocrite’, accusing him of double standards.
The Mail has discovered that those who make sweatshirts for Brand’s website work for up to 11 hours a day.
The starting monthly wage is 6,200 Bangladeshi taka (TK) a month, or around £52. This works out at around £1.98 a day, excluding overtime.
The minimum legal wage for Bangladesh is TK5,300 (£44.21) per month. That is far short of the TK25,687 – around £214 – which campaigners say is the minimum living wage.
The workers are paid 4p an hour more than minimum payable by law in Bangladesh – a country known to have among the worst factory conditions in the world.
Factory workers told the Mail they work six to seven days a week and can barely afford to support their families. One worker, Nishat Begum, said her life comprises of little more than work and sleep.
She lives near a textiles factory in Bangladesh with her husband Hassan and their two young children in a one-room tin shanty in an impoverished slum area of Dhaka. Hundreds of colleagues live in the same area.
The couple both work a six or seven-day week, though the factory’s 6,000 workers are expected to work overtime if there is a backlog of work.
A bus picks them up to take them to the factory in Gazipur, on the northern outskirts of Dhaka, in time for their shift to start at 8am.
They are meant to finish at 5pm. But, they say, on many days they are told that they must continue working for four or six more hours, so that the factory can finish their work.
Brand claims all profits from his sweatshirts are reinvested in good causes, but the only one he names is his own cafe, in trendy Shoreditch, east London (pictured)
Nishat, 30, started out on wages of just £21 a month. Eight years later, she now takes home £56, but says it is a struggle to get by on so little.
‘I don’t know why I have only got this amount of increment after working for such a long time,’ she said. ‘But then finding jobs is hard here, so we have to compromise. At one point, they had promised us bigger rises. But it was just a promise.
‘A pay rise policy is absent. I spoke with our manager once but he said I must wait. I am still waiting. In the absence of a union, it is hard to get a manager to listen to one individual worker.’
Hassan, 42, works in another part of the factory. He joined at the same time as Nishat and now earns about £3 a month more than her.
‘It is a low wage. We know that the factory manufactures for big foreign companies who sell them for big prices, but what can we do?’ he said. ‘As small workers, we are powerless.’
Tory MP Conor Burns said last night: ‘This proves what we knew all along that Russell Brand is a Grade-A hypocrite.’
Andrew Percy, another Conservative MP, also described him as a hypocrite, adding: ‘Perhaps he should trade his millionaire lifestyle for those of workers in Bangladesh who get paid a pittance and live in appalling conditions.’
Anna McMullen, of the campaign group Labour Behind the Label, said: ‘Many garment-producing countries have minimum wages that are less than half of the value of a wage that is enough to allow a family to live with dignity.
‘Paying even TK2,000 (£16) more than the minimum wage in Bangladesh will still mean that families live in poverty.’
The scandalous conditions endured by Bangladesh’s garment workers was brought to international attention in 2013 by the Rana Plaza tragedy.
The eight-storey factory in the capital Dhaka collapsed, killing 1,134 people. Many were making clothes for large Western brands who take advantage of low wages to boost their profits.
Brand recently criticised multinational retail giant Walmart for failing to pay US workers the £16,500 minimum wage – 317 times the lowest wage in the Bangladeshi factory.
He complained that it was ‘hard enough doing them sort of jobs without shafting people for every single penny’.
Brand, worth an estimated £10million, explained in an interview that they included ‘the constant subjugation of the world’s poor, the outsourcing of manufacturing industries into the Third World’.
The Belgium-based company which manufactures sweatshirts for Brand, Stanley & Stella, has admitted it had problems with illegal overtime in the Bangladesh factories.
The factory’s other clients include Next, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – exactly the sort of big name corporations Brand routinely berates.
Stanley & Stella insists its workers are paid more and forced to do less overtime than in rival factories
A spokesman said: ‘The most important thing that makes our business a sustainable business, it is that we commit to have continuous improvements pushing forward all kind of barriers.’
The company said it was working to reduce illegal levels of overtime at the factory and had ended contracts with other factories which refused to stop pushing workers into 90-hour weeks.
Industry regulator, Fair Wear Foundation, says the factory is one of the best employers in the country and pays more than other less scrupulous operators.
Since Thursday, Brand has been asked a series of questions about the sweatshirts but has refused to make any statement, instead referring all questions to his lawyers.
Last night his legal team admitted he did not know who his merchandise had been made by, where they were made, or by who.
Brand used a trendy London retailer called YR Store to produce the garments who the lawyers say is obliged by their client to be committed to ‘the highest ethical and environmental standards’ and had confirmed to him that they are.
The lawyers say that not all the sweatshirts are sourced from this company and that Brand will investigate the conditions and ‘if the Mail’s allegations are correct,’ will ‘ensure that these garments are sourced in a different way.’
It is not the first time the anti-capitalist crusader has faced accusations of hypocrisy.
In December, having demanded more low-cost housing, he flew into a rage when it emerged that he lived in a £2million home in trendy Hoxton, east London, owned by a firm based in a tax haven while demanding more low-cost housing.
He angrily called a TV reporter a ‘snide’ for suggesting he was part of the housing problem because the super-rich buying up property in London were driving up prices for everyone else.
Despite demanding an ‘orgy’ of banker bashing, urged people to refuse to pay taxes and calling profit a ‘filthy word’, he appeared to have no problem with raising nearly £1million from wealthy capitalists including investment bankers to make a documentary about himself.
Investors were enticed with generous tax breaks to support the film, portraying Brand as a ‘troubled visionary’ seeking to change the world.
…AND THE MYSTERY OVER WHY SO LITTLE GOES TO CHARITY
The comedian promises his customers that all profits from his T-shirts and sweatshirts go to charity and that he ‘doesn’t make a penny’.
But when the Daily Mail bought a sweatshirt for £60 (customers can pay more if you want) the receipt gave no indication of what amount had been passed to charity.
A reporter bought another one for £65 and was informed on their receipt that just £1.37 went to good causes – which good causes are not disclosed on Brand’s website.
Brand has not responded to requests to clarify if there is no profit on a £60 sweatshirt, though he does insist that all profits go to good causes.
When asked what these causes are, Brand said the money is put towards ‘social enterprise projects’ – including his own trendy East London cafe.
Brand last night refused to clarify where the profits go or if he donates any of the money to any organisations beyond his cafe.
His legal team said: ‘All profit from the sale of Trews merchandise goes towards building community social enterprise projects – including Trews cafe. No profits are retained.’
Trews café is said to be a not-for-profit business established by Brand and based in Shoreditch, East London.
During promotion for his book, Brand stated that he would use the profits to fund a social enterprise to employ former drug users in ‘abstinence-based recovery’ and help them return to work.
Last night Conservative MP Andrew Percy suggested he ‘could have his merchandise made in Britain and support jobs for young people here’.
The Charity Commission urged Brand to explain to customers exactly where their money goes.
Last year the website said the money from his merchandise would go to the Russell Brand Foundation.
This has subsequently been removed from the site and the Charity Commission said it had no record of the Foundation.
Brand has not responded to questions about the Foundation.