Ethical wristbands made using ‘slave labour’
By David Harrison
Wristbands sold to raise money for a campaign against world poverty are made in Chinese sweatshops in “slave labour” conditions, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
|Worthy cause: hundreds of thousands of the £1 wristbands have been sold in Britain
The “shocking” conditions are disclosed in confidential “ethical audits” of factories that make the ultra-fashionable white wristbands for the Make Poverty History campaign, started by a coalition of more than 400 charities.
Bob Geldof, who last week confirmed a follow-up to the 1985 Live Aid concert – to coincide with the G8 summit in July – called for action when this newspaper broke the news to him.
“The charities should pull out of deals with those companies immediately or set a firm deadline for improvements and pull out if the improvements are not met,” he said. One senior official with a British charity last night described the labour abuses as “deeply shocking”.
He accused Oxfam, Christian Aid, Cafod and others of “rank hypocrisy” for buying from sweatshops while campaigning for “fair and ethical trade”.
|Ultra-fashionable: pop stars and politicians wear the wristbands
He said: “This is appalling. It goes against everything we stand for. If we are criticising big companies for trading unethically then we have to be whiter than white.”
Hundreds of thousands of wristbands, made in fabric or silicon, have been sold in Britain, with pop stars, footballers and politicians, including Tony Blair, seen wearing them. They cost £1, of which 70p goes to the charities.
The audit reports obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show, however, that Chinese factories making the silicon versions fall woefully short of the “ethical standards”.
A report on the Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, dated April 12, 2005, accuses it of using “forced labour” by taking “financial deposits” from new employees in violation of Chinese law and the Ethical Trading Initiative set up to promote international standards for working conditions.
The audit uncovered a list of “weaknesses” including poor health and safety provision, long hours, a seven-day week, workers cheated out of pay, inadequate insurance, no annual leave and no right to freedom of association.
An audit at the Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company in Fujian province found workers paid at below the local minimum hourly wage of 2.39 yuan (just under 16p) and some as little as 1.39 yuan (9p).
Overtime was worked beyond the legal limit and not paid for properly, there was no paid annual leave, and no guarantee of a day off each week. Workers had pay deducted for disciplinary reasons, in breach of Chinese law.
The audits have sparked a row between some charities involved. Christian Aid, which has bought more than 500,000 wristbands from Tat Shing, claims that Oxfam failed to tell other charities that it had decided to stop ordering from the Shenzhen company.
A spokesman said: “Oxfam placed an order and told us the Chinese company was ethically OK. We accepted that and ordered wristbands in good faith.
“If Oxfam had concerns about ethical standards they did not pass them on for a considerable time.”
Oxfam said it informed its coalition partners of its decision in January, but a spokesman said: “We could have perhaps put it in writing to make it absolutely clear. We bought an initial 10,000 wristbands from the Shenzhen company in November. We now see that purchasing this before we had seen a full audit was a mistake.”
It turned instead to the Fujian factory for 1.5 million wristbands but only, it said, after assurances that problems were being tackled.
Christian Aid and Cafod continue to order from the Shenzhen firm as part of a “constructive engagement” policy: working with companies to help them to improve.
“There are already signs that conditions are improving, although there is still some way to go,” a Christian Aid spokesman said.
Cafod, which has bought 120,000 wristbands from the factory, said: “We realise there is a problem but we have taken action to minimise it. Our understanding was that Oxfam had carried out an ethical audit of the company and we acted in good faith. We would prefer this not to have happened but we believe that conditions at the factory will improve”.
Richard Curtis, the British screenwriter and co-founder of Comic Relief, said: “I don’t want to comment about this. I am very concerned about the G8 summit and getting as many people as possible to be passionate about the war against poverty so that we can achieve a massive breakthrough.”
Louis Kennedy, a British fair trade marketing company which sourced the wristbands for Oxfam and arranged audits of the Shenzhen company, said that the reference to forced labour related to “deposits” paid for uniforms and tools and “as far as Louis Kennedy is aware, [the factory] did not prevent workers leaving to seek alternative employment”.
Louis Kennedy was “disappointed” that there were problems at the factory but believed it right to continue to use it because improvements have been made.
The audit included a “corrective and protective action plan”, with three- and six-month deadlines.
Mel Beaulieu, a director of Sandbag, a Berkshire-based marketing company which deals with the Fujian factory, said that production of the silicon bands did not begin until three weeks after the audit when the factory agreed to a “continuous improvement plan”.
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