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Major high street retailers reiterate commitment to ethical trading

High street chains including Marks & Spencer, Gap, Next, Tesco and Asda have all been the subject of investigations in to poor working conditions in their overseas factories.

M&S, Gap and Next have launched inquiries into their ethical trading practices after workers at their Indian suppliers were found to be paid half the legal overtime rate.An investigation by The Observer found workers in factories in India had been working up to 16 hours a day. Those who worked the overtime were found to be paid under the legal rate of overtime and staff who refused to work the extra hours had been told to find new jobs.

The investigation found the factories, including House of Pearl which produces clothing for Gap and Next and Viva Global Factory which makes M&S’s clothing, were using workers hired through middlemen, paying them as little as 25p an hour.

The retailers said that they were all committed to ethical trading and that abuses in their supply chain were not acceptable.

The report said Gap had found wage violations and had ordered its supplier to reduce working hours to within legal limits and to refund workers who had been underpaid.

Retailer Next described the situation as “deplorable” and said it would drop the factory unless conditions improved quickly.

“It goes without saying that we were extremely concerned about this situation and are working actively with the supplier’s management to improve conditions at Pearl,” said a Next spokesman.

Marks & Spencer admitted its supplier had been operating excessive overtime but said it had taken steps to quickly to resolve the issue.

Separately an investigation by The Sunday Times found that workers at Liberty Fashions in Bangladesh, a factory which makes clothes for Asda and Tesco, were not allowed to take sick leave or maternity leave.

Asda said it had told the supplier it would be placing no more orders with it in late April after it failed to take the steps demanded by Asda in a corrective action plan which it had given the factory’s management team. In accordance with the Ethical Trading Initiative’s base code it has honoured all orders which had already been placed, so its last order from Liberty will be shipped on September 26.

The retailer said in a statement: “Through audits we identified issues in relation to working hours and the inconsistency of records. Despite giving the factory management team a clear corrective action plan and timescale, we are not satisfied the factory meets the high standards we demand.”

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