Supermarket skinflints: How cheap school uniforms are locking women workers in to poverty

Cheap school uniforms sold in major UK supermarkets are being produced by women workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka earning as little as five pence per hour and working over 70 hours per week, according to a report published today by ActionAid.

The report – Who Pays? The real cost of cheap school uniforms – exposes  how unrelenting pressure from retail giants Asda, Tesco and Marks & Spencer to cut prices and change orders at the last minute is trapping thousands of women who produce school uniforms in poverty.

According to ActionAid, workers making school uniforms for the £450 million UK market are not receiving a living wage – despite Asda, Tesco and Marks & Spencer pledging to work toward providing one for workers in their supply chains.

In Bangladesh, women told ActionAid that they face poverty wages, excessive hours and harassment from factory bosses desperate to meet the demands of high street retailers, including Tesco and Asda.

A Sri Lankan made school dress from Marks & Spencer retails at £6. Only 10p of that finds its way back to the worker. Because wages are such a small proportion of the retail price, supermarkets could double the amount going to workers without passing on the costs to British parents.

Dominic Eagleton, ActionAid Policy Officer said: "Despite promises from the supermarkets, workers making schoolwear for the UK find themselves locked into a cycle of poor pay and poverty."

"Parents have every right to buy affordable uniforms, but should be confident in the knowledge that what they kit their kids out in is sourced ethically. The only way that can happen is for the Government to step in and make supermarkets play fair."

ActionAid is calling on the Government to introduce an independent watchdog to monitor supermarkets’ supply chain practices. It is not calling for a boycott of UK supermarkets.