‘Girl power’ charity T-shirts made at exploitative Bangladeshi factory

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Over 100 workers claim to have been sacked after protesting about low wages at factory that makes ‘girl power’ T-shirts

The £28 garments are sold online by F=, which claims to be “all about inspiring and empowering girls”, with £10 from each T-shirt donated to Worldreader, a charity that supplies digital books to poverty-stricken children in Africa. Television presenter Holly Willoughby recently reposted a 2017 picture of her and Spice Girl Emma Bunton wearing the T-shirts.

The Guardian has established that the garments were made by Bangladeshi firm Dird Composite Textiles, where some workers earn as little as 42p an hour and complain of harassment. In one case, a female employee was beaten on the orders of the management and threatened with murder.

After being contacted by the Guardian, F= stopped selling the T-shirts and Worldreader pledged to cease accepting donations “until the situation is resolved”.

Machinists at the factory say they have been sacked en masse after striking over wages in January. They are among more than 7,500 employees at 27 factories in Bangladesh who have lost their jobs in recent weeks, according to union leaders, amid widespread protests and strike action over the imposition of a new minimum wage – which critics argue is too low – for the country’s garment industry.

The new minimum wage for the sector is 8,000 taka (£71.34) a month, half what the 16,000 campaigners had been demanding and well short of living wage estimates. Meanwhile, some higher-grade factory workers who already earned more than 8,000 taka a month received only small increases, it is claimed.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, who worked as a child labourer in textile factories, said: “The huge number of dismissals over wage protests shows how workers’ voices have been suppressed and how they are lacking freedom of expression.

“The workers that got fired know the law and their rights. In many cases they were union leaders in their respective factories. These workers are picked intentionally so there is no voice left in a factory to fight against retaliation and form a union.”

Dird insists that the workers who left resigned of their own volition.

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