Abuse, long hours and low pay: the reality of Asda's showcase factories

ASDA Poverty Guarantee

Workers at Asda’s “showcase” clothing factories, which are supposed to offer improved pay and conditions, report being slapped, having their hair pulled and regularly working 60 hour weeks, according to ActionAid's new report. The report, The real Asda price reveals that in one of Asda’s model factories in Bangladesh, nearly half of staff interviewed said they had suffered some kind of physical abuse and three quarters had been sworn at. Over 60% said they were not allowed to use the toilet when they needed to.

Asda claims it wants workers in its showcase factories to do less overtime. But in at least two of the four factories 11 hour days are standard and more than half of the workers interviewed by ActionAid worked over 60 hours a week. In one factory two-thirds of workers we spoke to said they had done a back-to-back day and night shift from 8am to 3am at least once in the previous month.

An average worker in one of these factories earns poverty wages of just £33 a month. ActionAid estimates that in Bangladesh a worker needs a living wage of £100 a month if she is to eat nutritious food, send her children to school and afford basic health care. Asda claims wages in its model factories increased by 14 per cent in one year, but this increase only complies with rises in Bangladesh’s legal minimum wage, rather than reaching a level where it will actually meets workers’ needs.

Emily Armistead, the report’s author, said:

“We investigated two of the four model factories in which Asda claims conditions for its workers have improved. What I found should shame Asda into immediate action. Women reported being slapped, having their hair pulled and being regularly sworn at.

“We found workers putting in 60 hour weeks and regularly working from early in the morning through until the small hours, sometimes four or even five nights in a row. Too scared to go home at 3am, they sleep under their machines for a few hours before starting work again in the morning. They can’t care for their families and they fall sick.

“But even with these hours their wages are a pittance. Many of the women are desperate to educate their children so they can escape this kind of work – but the wages they earn aren’t enough to provide a proper diet and health care, never mind a decent education.

“These model factories are failing workers. Asda urgently needs to commit to paying all its workers a living wage , just £100 a month in Bangladesh. The company can afford this – it’s the equivalent of paying at extra 7.5 pence per t-shirt, and Asda is part of the Wal-Mart group which makes £43 million profit each day.

“Asda can still sell value for money clothes and ensure workers get a fair deal at the same time.”

Almost a year ago Asda invited ActionAid to see its showcase factories, but it has yet to make good on that promise, so the charity decided to investigate conditions there for itself. ActionAid, working with local researchers, wanted to do a large-scale survey but found that most workers in the factories were too scared to talk. In the end only 37 workers dared to come forward.

 

Armistead said:

“Most workers at these showcase factories were too scared to come forward and talk about their experience. If they are too frightened to talk to independent researchers, what does this say about the conditions in those factories?”

The system Asda has introduced into the four model factories is known as “Lean manufacturing” and is aimed at increasing productivity. Asda claims this will also improve workers’ pay and conditions, and is planning to roll out the system to 17 more factories in Bangladesh, and then to India and China.

ActionAid wants all garment workers in Asia to be paid a living wage which is enough to cover a worker’s basic needs for things like food, healthcare and education. Campaigners with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance have calculated a living wage for each country in Asia, which varies depending upon the country but buys the same amount of goods and services.If Asda is as serious about improving workers’ lives as it claims, then it must commit to:

  • ensure a living wage is paid throughout its supply chain that, as a minimum, meets the level set by the Asia Floor Wage alliance
  • making the achievement of this wage target an explicit objective of its productivity approach as it rolls it out to other factories in Asia
  • ensuring that prices paid to suppliers are enough to cover the cost of paying a living wage
  • guaranteeing worker representation in factories where its productivity approach is being introduced, and promoting trade union rights.