Primark, H&M factories hit in teen girl abuse report

Hannesbrands, C&A, Sainsbury's, Primark and Mothercare have been linked to spinning mills that still have appalling working conditions.

This is evident from a report done by the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). The report shows that workers are still facing awful working conditions in the Southern Indian textile industry.

The report shows the situation in five spinning mills in Tamil Nadu - a major hub in the global knitwear and textile industry. The mills are Best Cotton Mills, Jeyavishnu Spintex, Premier Mills, Sulochana Cotton Spinning Mills and Super Spinning Mills. These mills have Bangladesh garment factories and Western companies among their customers, including the companies mentioned above.

The research for the report is based on interviews with 150 workers, export data regarding involved companies and analysis of corporate information.

The women and teenage girls working in the mills are mostly recruited from Dalit communities in impoverished rural areas. They were lured away from their homes with promises of decent jobs. In reality they are forced to work long hours for low wages. They do not get payslips or contracts. They live in company run hostels and are almost never allowed to leave the company grounds. There are no unions or complaint mechanisms in the mills, so the workers have no where to turn to to express their grievances. The working conditions basically amount to modern day slavery and child labor of the worst kind.

The research found that two of the mills are supplying Bangladesh garment factories that fall under the Bangladesh Accord, presenting a direct link between those who signed the Accord and labor rights violations in India. SOMO and ICN could not determine which signatories are involved because of a lack of transparency in the garment sector.

The export data also linked the spinning mills to three foreign banks - The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Raifesenbank and Standard Chartered Bank. These banks offer financial services to spinning mills and their customers, but refused to give any details claiming banking security and privacy.

According to ICN program officer Marjin Peepercamp: "Governments at the buying end of the supply chain are failing to ensure that companies live up to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The state duty to protect and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights as laid down in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are not being respected."

"Business efforts are failing to address labor rights violations effectively. Corporate auditing is not geared towards detecting forced labor and other major labor rights infringements. Moreover, there is a near complete lack of supply chain transparency. Local trade unions and labor groups are consistently ignored." says SOMO researcher Martje Theuws.

SOMO and ICN are calling upon corporate actors along the global garment supply chain to be more transparent about their suppliers and to be more ambitious in detecting and addressing human rights violations.