Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Pakistan's Sweat-Shop

The fast fashion brand Boohoo is selling clothes made by Pakistani factory workers who say they face appalling conditions and earn as little as 29p an hour.

In the industrial city of Faisalabad, workers at two factories claimed they were paid 10,000 Rupees (£47) a month, well below the legal monthly minimum wage for unskilled labour of 17,500 Rupees, while making clothes to be sold by Boohoo.  In the rush to produce clothes for the western market, workers would sometimes do 24-hour shifts.

“I know we are exploited and paid less than the legal minimum, but we can’t do anything … if I leave the job another person will be ready to replace me.” explained one worker.

Workers in two factories based in the Samanabad area of Faisalabad allege that:

  • While some are paid the legal minimum wage, others say they earn far less and receive no receipt or payslip to record their income.

  • At Madina Gloves, which manufactures a range of clothes, workers are often ordered to work unreasonably long shifts without full overtime pay, stretching to 24 hours straight before major deadlines.

  • Accommodation provided by Madina Gloves is squalid and one worker said they went without running water there for days at a time.

As long as the demand for the clothes is there, workers like Ahmed see little hope of change. “If I don’t work in these conditions,” he says, “someone else will.”

Mohammed Hafeez, says, “I know we are exploited and paid less than the legal minimum, but we can’t do anything,” he says. “If I leave the job, another person will be ready to replace me.”

Of the 1.3 million people who come to Faisalabad to work, many are from rural parts of south Punjab and more than half work in the textiles industry. While some are formally employed, others are all but invisible, hired on an ad-hoc basis and not registered with the labour department.

“It is a nexus of industrialists, politicians and bureaucrats who deny basic rights to the workers,” says Aslam Wafa, a labour leader and general secretary at the Faisalabad Labour Federation, sitting in an office piled with files that reach the ceiling. “As soon as some workers file a request to the labour department for establishing a union in a factory, the owner gets the news, and he fires them.”


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