MPs called for legislation yesterday to make British retailers pay their garment workers overseas a living wage.
The call came after the Guardian reported allegations by workers at factories in Bangladesh supplying Asda, Primark and Tesco that they worked up to 80 hours per week for as little as 4p an hour. They also reported abuse by supervisors, and sackings for taking sick leave.
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman, said legislation should guarantee that pay and conditions of overseas workers met international standards: "It's obscene that [UK shoppers] can earn more through their club card points than the people who produce the goods they are buying." She was setting up meetings with supermarkets and other large employers of overseas workers to talk about their corporate responsibilities.
Labour MP Harry Cohen said voluntary codes such as the Ethical Trade Initiative were not working: "What is needed is government intervention to put it into the regulatory framework. That is where ministers could make a real difference." He would raise the issue with the International Development secretary, Douglas Alexander. The ETI code sets out a 48-hour working week, overtime of no more than 12 hours a week, and a "living wage".
Yesterday Asda described as "frustrating" the Guardian's refusal to name the factories concerned, but began an investigation. Tesco said that because it had no names it was unable to act. Primark said the allegations were "of considerable concern". The Guardian did not supply names at the workers' request, for fear they would be sacked or the UK firms concerned might pull
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