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M&S suppliers in Asia slammed over low pay

Marks & Spencer has reiterated its commitment to improving conditions in its supply chain after a report accused some of its clothing factories in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India of underpaying their workers.

Marks & Spencer

The report by UK-based non-governmental workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label, entitled Do we buy it?, claims workers in three factories used by M&S in Sri Lanka, three in India and two in Bangladesh are living in “abject poverty”.

In Bangladesh, for example, it found M&S clothing factory workers living in slum housing, in debt because they are paid below what is deemed to be a “living wage”.

Labour Behind the Label accused M&S of failing to deliver on a promise made in 2010 to ensure suppliers in these countries are able to pay a living wage by 2015. It claims the commitment was deliberately vague and was unmeasurable by external parties, adding: “There is no firm wording tying M&S to putting up costs paid to suppliers.”

M&S hit back at the report, arguing that it has achieved its goal of ensuring its costs prices were high enough to enable its suppliers in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India to pay a fair living wage – but pointing out that it cannot actually dictate that wage. (Continues below the advert)

The retailer said it had made “significant progress” in helping its supplier factories become more efficient and improve HR and management practices. Average wages at its supplier factories in Bangladesh are now 60% above the current minimum wage, it added.

A spokesperson for M&S said: “We are committed to further improving working conditions in our clothing supply chain and our work since 2010 has made a significant difference.

“There’s always more to be done due to the complex nature of the clothing supply chain and we cannot determine the wages paid to supplier employees. However, we are committed to ensuring our cost prices remain high enough to pay a fair living wage, training workers in financial literacy and worker rights and playing our part in collaborating with other brands and governments to improve the sector.”

The report also highlighted that Swedish fast fashion chain H&M has made a commitment to ensure a living wage is possible for workers in its supply chain, although it is much further behind M&S on the journey. Labour Behind the Label claimed progress on this to date was “limited”.

It recommends more transparency to ensure company commitments are carried out in real terms and moving away from a focus on increasing wages by rewarding greater efficiency.

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