New Delhi: Workers in Indian factories supplying supermarket chains Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and fashion label Ralph Lauren allege exploitative work conditions including long working hours and access to toilet breaks, according to a BBC report published Tuesday.
In the exclusive, BBC reported that women working in a factory that supplied Ralph Lauren said they had been forced to stay overnight at times to complete orders, resulting in them sleeping on the factory floor.
“We’re made to work continuously, often through the night, sleeping at 3 am then waking up by 5 am for another full day. Our bosses don’t care. They’re only bothered about production,” one of the women workers told the British news service.
The BBC withheld the names of everyone who agreed to be interviewed along with the factories’ names to “protect the workers’ safety”.
What the workers say
One of the women workers at a factory supplying Marks & Spencer said, “We don’t get toilet breaks, we don’t get time to drink water on shift. We barely get time to eat lunch.”
The same worker told BBC that there were times when a manager would stand behind the workers in the canteen and blow a whistle to send everyone back to work. Another factory worker said the staff was made to work overtime and stopped from going home until the work was completed.
“They’ve increased our workload. We’re forced to stay late to finish it — or they yell at us and threaten to fire us. We’re scared as we don’t want to lose our jobs,” said the worker.
Many of the women working for a Ralph Lauren supplier said their managers did not give them notice to work longer hours, adding they were threatened to be laid off if they did not stay on.
“The supervisor always shouts at us. If we make any error in stitching, I’ll be taken to the master who is very scary. The master will start swearing and shouting at us. It’s a terrifying experience,” one of the workers said.
Another worker at the Ralph Lauren supplier, who is a widow, told BBC, “They ask us to work so late I can’t even feed my children at night. They shouldn’t treat us like slaves, they should give us respect.”
According to the report, the claims seem to violate India’s Factories Act, which states that no worker should exceed more than 48 hours a week (or 60 hours with overtime). Workers should also not be made to work for over nine hours in a day.
BBC reported that all the workers it spoke to said they lived in “impoverished conditions” and struggled to survive on their salaries.
Response by brands
All four brands — Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ralph Lauren — told the BBC they were concerned about the allegations made and would investigate the matter.
In a statement, Ralph Lauren said it was deeply concerned by the allegations. “We require all of our suppliers to meet strict operating standards to ensure a safe, healthy and ethical workplace, and we conduct regular third-party audits at all factories.”
The three supermarket brands said they were shocked to hear the reports of exploitation and would work together to ensure the issues were solved.
Sainsbury’s said it was “insisting on a number of actions the supplier must take in order for us to continue to work with them”.
“We don’t tolerate any abuse of workers’ rights and fully investigated these allegations as soon as we were made aware. We were deeply troubled with what we found,” Tesco said in a statement.
Marks & Spencer said it undertook an immediate unannounced audit after the allegations were made and identified overtime working practices which were not acceptable. However, it disputed accounts by factory workers’ claims about access to toilet breaks and water.