Lululemon, a Canadian brand whose £88 leggings are worn by celebrities and Instagram influencers, are sourcing clothing from a factory where Bangladeshi female factory workers claim they are beaten and physically assaulted. It recently launched a partnership with the United Nations to reduce stress levels and promote the mental health of aid workers. The company has upped its sales and profit outlook and is now forecasting that it will haul in $3.8bn (£3.02bn) to $3.84bn in sales in 2019.
Yet young female workers at a factory in Bangladesh making clothing for the label gave detailed accounts of how they struggled to survive on meagre wages and faced physical violence and regular humiliation at the hands of their managers, who called them “whores” and “sluts”. The factory is owned and run by the Youngone Corporation, which supplies Lululemon.
Workers allege that:
One worker at the factory claimed she was slapped for leaving work early, after feeling unwell. “I was sick, so one day I left work at 5pm but I informed the line supervisor. He told his bosses I left without telling anyone and the next day, when I went to work, the technician in charge of my line slapped me,” she said. She added: “He slapped me so hard my cheeks turned red and everyone asked me what happened. I couldn’t tell them the actual story. I just told them I had allergies.” The worker claimed she did not complain as she felt no one would care. She added that female workers were also called “prostitutes”. During last Ramadan, they created a new line and recruited new female workers. One day, a technician hit a label operator so hard on her chest. We could see she was in pain the whole day … She was lying in the back of the line for hours but our bosses did nothing about her.”
Anna Bryher, advocacy director for the campaign group Labour Behind the Label, said: “Women at the bottom of supply chains bear the brunt of fashion’s unrelenting push to be fast and cheap … It’s obscene.” She added: “As outrageous as this story is, this isn’t a one-off. Women making our clothes in Bangladesh are routinely and systematically abused and harassed.”
80% of Bangladeshi workers making clothes from international companies said they had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
The Guardian spoke to one male worker at the factory, who claimed he had witnessed female workers being called “whore”, “prostitute” and “slut”.
He further alleged: “They treat men badly too. Sometimes they beat male workers too. I never got beaten myself but I have seen other people get beaten up.”
Workers also raised concerns about not being able to leave when they are sick, with one girl who had jaundice reportedly granted time off by the medical team at the factory but told by her production manager she had to keep working.
They claimed that they are sometimes understaffed, putting immense pressure on workers who needed to meet targets. “So workers have to work more. They can’t eat food or take rest properly which is very bad,” a labourer said.