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WORLD: Charity Wristbands Made in 'Sweatshop' Factories

by Lesley RichardsonThe Scotsman
May 29th, 2005

Wristbands made to raise awareness of the Make Poverty History campaign have been produced in Chinese factories which violated ethical standards, it emerged today.

The fashionable white wristbands, worn by celebrities and politicians including Tony Blair, were made for a coalition of charities as the symbol of their worldwide 2005 campaign to end extreme poverty.

Oxfam, Christian Aid and Cafod are amongst those charities selling the wristbands, made in rubber and fabric, at £1 each.

Audit reports on two Chinese factories producing the bands have shown standards fell below the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Tat Shing Rubber Manufacturing Company, in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, was accused of “forced labour” by taking financial deposits, poor health and safety provision, long hours, unpaid overtime and no right to freedom of association, in the April 2005 audit.

An audit report on Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company, in Fujian province, included workers being paid below the local minimum hourly wage of 2.39 yuan (16p), down to 1.39 yuan (9p) in some cases, overtime work not being paid properly and with hours beyond the legal limit, no paid annual leave, no guarantee of a day off per week, and workers being deducted for disciplinary reasons.

A spokeswoman for Cafod, which bought 120,000 rubber bands from the Tat Shing factory, said today: “It was concerned that labour standards weren’t as good as we would have expected especially as we were buying as part of this campaign.”

She said: “The point (forced labour) was around people being asked to leave a deposit against future possible breakages of machinery which clearly we wouldn’t want to see and violates Chinese law and the Ethical Trade Initiative.

“There were a lot of things which clearly concerned us so we asked them to take corrective action.

“Health and safety, there was an issue around fire exits, insufficient fire exits.

“Originally we were told there was no overtime, which we thought was unlikely, so we were concerned people were being asked to work overtime without being paid.”

Another Cafod spokeswoman said the company had agreed to engage with Tat Shing as an incentive for the company to improve its employment practises.

She said: “We are disappointed this situation has arisen. However we are now engaging with the supplier to improve conditions within the factory.

“Under the Ethical Trading Initiative standards when we find out a supplier isn’t in line with those standards we don’t just pull away. We attempt to engage with the supplier and work with that supplier to improve conditions so they are in line with the Ethical Trading Initiative standards.

“By engaging with the supplier, the supplier has an incentive to improve conditions so the end result is better than if we had pulled away.

“If we pulled away then the supplier has lost a customer and they will just find another customer who may not care about labour conditions.”

Tat Shing has accepted a timetable to improve specific weakness picked up in the audit, the spokeswoman said.

She added: “We are fully confident all the requirements will be met but we will have to re-examine our position if they are not met.”

Oxfam bought 10,000 silicon wristbands from Tat Shing in November last year, none of which have been sold, but found another supplier while waiting to receive the firm’s audit.

Oxfam then ordered 1.5 million wristbands from Fuzhou Xing Chun Trade Company after the failings highlighted in its audit had been addressed.

A spokesman for Oxfam said: “Like the rest of the Make Poverty History coalition, Oxfam is concerned about the ethical audits that have come back on the Chinese factories lined up to supply white bands and we have agreed formal action plans to address the concerns raised which have been carried out.

“We can reassure people wanting to support the campaign that all white bands sold in Oxfam shops meet the standards of our ethical purchasing practices.”

A spokesman for Christian Aid, which has bought more than 500,000 wristbands from Tat Shing, said: “There is no hint of a disagreement within the agencies on this.

“At Christian Aid we stand four-square beside our partners within the Make Poverty History Campaign.”

Sandbag, a Berkshire-based marketing company which deals with the Fuzhou factory, was not available to comment.



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