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'British tycoon exploits Indian sweat'

The Sunday Times alleges that Indian workers are badly exploited in Mauritius based factories which supply garments to the shops owned by Sir Philip Green.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2007 12:12 IST
Vijay Dutt

Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers are badly exploited in Mauritius based factories which supply garments to the shops owned by Sir Philip Green, a report in The Sunday Times has alleged.

Sir Philip, rated the seventh richest man in the United Kingdom by the Times itself in its list of 1000 richest Britons, is a glamour celebrity in the country, owner of leading fashion wear stores like Miss Selfrides and Topshop.

Not long ago, Kate Moss signed up as model for Topshop, and the Moss range of clothing she endorsed became a rage across Europe and the US.

The newspaper has alleged that Sir Philip’s suppliers — all based in Mauritius — employ hundreds of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers who toil “up to 12 hours a day, six days a week” in their factories, for monthly salaries of around £112 pounds (Rs 9,500), shockingly low even by local standards. The average wage in Mauritius is £205 a month. These sweatshop factories include Star Knitwear, which made the Kate Moss range of clothing. Each T shirt in this range sold for £12 pounds (Rs 1,000).

The report quoted a 50-year-old man who had left his entire family behind in India. “I have a pain in my back, and in my neck because I sit in the same position all day from 7 a.m. to 8.30 p.m.” he said. “I don’t get the money I was promised by the agent. Some people have tried to speak out about the working conditions here, but they have been promptly sent back to India.”

Most workers said they were recruited in their home countries by agents who promised them wages up to five times more than what they actually receive. They had all paid the agents heavily to get the job.

To those workers who demanded better working conditions and wages, retribution came swiftly. “They took us to the airport and left us there for three days. We could not travel. We had no tickets. Armed gunmen, who we were told were from the Mauritius armed forces, came and threatened us. We feared we would be shot if we continued to protest. We were then kept in a camp,” alleged Amali, one of the workers.

Of the protestors, 174 were finally given return tickets and asked to leave Mauritius.

Neil Kearney, of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation likened the workers to slave labourers. “Because of the economic conditions of a country like Mauritius, companies are unable to attract local labour. Instead they recruit migrant workers, who pay a significant fee for the job. Many migrant workers who go to work in these garment factories are like slaves.”

Sir Philip can, however, argue that he does not own the factories. He instead uses a network of independently owned factories which make garments to specifications provided by him.