Gethin Chamberlain for The Sun on Sunday, 20 October 2013
THEY are this year’s must-have fashion accessory, but an investigation by The Sun on Sunday has lifted the lid on the false eyelash business – where women in Indonesia work for as little as 20P A DAY.
The lashes are manufactured for Western companies then marketed under big star names who have helped turn it into a multi-million pound industry.
But when we tracked down the heart of the global trade to the small town of Purbalingga, central Java, we found young factory girls working gruelling eight-hour shifts netting them just pounds 50 a month.
This is an average of 29p an hour or about 8p for every pair of lashes.
That is the legal minimum for the area, but less than half what they would earn in capital Jakarta (pounds 128).
A single pair of lashes then goes on to be sold abroad for more than 70 TIMES what the girls are paid to painstakingly make them.
The investigation, jointly carried out with Open World News, also revealed that the company making lashes for the British market leader Eylure and other big names also use a network of smaller workshops, known as partnerships, and home workers, where salaries are less than HALF the pounds 50 a month legal minimum.
But even that is less than a third of what a local family would have to earn to meet basic needs.
We discovered one new mother nursing a baby while making lashes for around 2p a pair.
In the most shocking case we found a girl born with no arms was using her toes to make lashes for another factory. She is paid just 1p per pair.
The manufacturer Eylure uses, PT Royal Korindah, also makes lashes for many of the biggest names in the industry, including L’Oreal, Shu Uemura., MAC, Make Up For Ever and Maybelline. There is no suggestion that any of these companies were aware of the low wages.
Eylure makes branded lashes for many stars. Its Katy Perry range starts at pounds 5.95 here – none of which it says are made by subcontractors.
Eylure’s British fans include Jessie J, Cher Lloyd and Little Mix pair Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall.
Plus they have graced Hollywood greats including Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor when she played Cleopatra.
Singer Adele is said to be a fan of MAC and Shu Uemura.
But it is a trade based on taking advantage of some of the cheapest skilled labour in the world.
Workers say their task requires intense concentration which leaves them with sore eyes and aching limbs and backs. By age 40 their eyesight is too bad to keep working.
Kuswati, 20, is one of many girls who work at one of the workshops scattered around Purbalingga – or in clusters, or alone, at home. We found her sitting on a bench, knitting hairs on to a thread strung between two nails hammered into a table.
What makes the slender youngster, who is wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “We make it sweet … “, so remarkable, is that she was born with no arms.
She explains: “I have been making eyelashes since I was 15.
“I use my feet to thread them.”
She is paid just 1p per pair. and can manage only 20 pairs a day. It is hard work. First she has to separate five hairs from the bundle on the side of her loom.
She holds a long, hooked needle with her left foot and clasps the hair between the toes of her right, working it into a loop and knotting it on to the thread. She has to get 60 on to each thread, which will be used to make one pair of eyelashes.
She says: “I work from 9am to 4pm, but it makes my back very painful.”
The lashes are collected by an agent supplying the Sung Shim factory. It produces lashes for a number of US brands. The factory declined to comment.
Mix’s Jessie J Speaking of her future, Kuswati says: “I want to run a store and become a businesswoman. Doing this is my last choice.”
But she laughs at the idea. Her T-shirt cost pounds 1.65 and her shorts pounds 2.75. “I had to save for a year to “buy them,” she says.
“We often ask for more money, because the price is too low.”
We found Friti, 20, making eyelashes for a company that supplies Royal Korindah on a home-made loom on the floor of her shack, ‘
She is also caring for her two-month-old son, who is lying on a blanket next to her.
She said: “I finished school but did not have the money to go on to higher education. I wanted to be a teacher. Now I will always be doing this – I don’t know what else to do.
Sometimes I feel dizzy and I have problems with my eyes, but I can’t afford glasses.”
She says she averages 32 pieces a day, for which she receives 300 rupiah (less than 2p) a piece.
That is around 7p an hour for an eight-hour day, but she often works from 8am to midnight to accommodate the breaks required to look after her baby.
Friti adds: “It is not enough and now we need to get baby formula.”
When we tell her how much the eyelashes sell for in the UK, her jaw drops.
“How can I only get 300 rupiah for every one I make?” she says.
It takes about ten to 15 minutes to make one piece, which is later cut to make a pair of eyelashes.
She uses real hair, measuring the gap between knots. They need to be one millimetre apart.
She works quickly, looping the hairs around a white thread strung between the nails in the loom and tensioned with an elastic band.
The next day we find her delivering her finished pieces to the Royal Korindah partnership workshop in Arenan, around three miles outside Purbalingga.
There, 87 girls work in a singlestorey building with roughly plastered walls and fluorescent strip lighting suspended above their narrow wooden tables.
Kamisah, the supervisor, says the girls are aged between 17 and 40. They get between 1p and 4p a piece, depending on the design.
Wages start at pounds 22 a month.
Kamisah says: “It is difficult but we are used to the work. It makes your eyes hurt, they get watery, “but what else can you do? “Maybe if there was another job I would do that, but there is not.”
The women get between pounds 11 and pounds 14 every 15 days, they show their pay slips to prove it. Setyanti, 34, has four years service. She says: “Most of the time the money is not enough. I have three kids.”
Indonesian exports of false eyelashes and wigs were last year worth pounds 130million.
Royal Korindah has established itself as the market leader. It employs 4,000 in its factory and prides itself on its quality.
The hair has to be 20cm long, says factory manager Very Anjarwinarto.
First it is boiled and dyed, before the knitting process. Then it Is ironed, cut and rolled to curl it.
It is then placed in an oven to fix the curl and cut to shape.
Very adds: “Labour is the expensive process. The material is not expensive, but it is all hand made.”
The company makes 30million eyelashes a year. America is the largest market, the UK is second.
Most of the workers are women who start in the factory at 18 and they work until 40, says Very, “because after that their eyes go”.
Like most in the area, the company is South Korean.
Very says its founder chose Purbalingga. as there was already a Culture of making hair extensions.
Critics suspect the appeal is the low minimum wage.
Royal Korindah refused to comment when contacted.
Original Additions, on behalf of Eylure, told The Sun on Sunday they welcome the investigation and that they were unaware Royal Korindah was subcontracting.
An Original Additions spokesman said: “We welcome reporters visiting the facility and acknowledge that Eylure does work with Royal Korindah, which is understood to be one of the best and most respected facilities in Indonesia, used by a number of leading brands and which contributes enormously to the local community. “As you have confirmed, Royal Korindah pay the minimum wage set by the Indonesian government, or higher.
“We do not work with any subfactories or partnerships factories in the production of our products.”
The Asia Floor Wage Alliance ? which campaigns for workers’ rights ? calculates an Indonesian ‘ family of four needs pounds 166-a-month to cover their basic needs.
Last year the Purbalingga Manpower Agency said a third of the estimated 100,000 workers in the area’s industry were being paid less than the minimum wage.