High street retailer Whistles has pulled a series of T-shirts which features pro-feminist slogans from its shelves, after an investigation from the Mail on Sunday claimed the 45 pound shirts were produced by women working in sweatshops in Mauritius and earning 62 pence per an hour.
The T-shirts, bearing the phrase “This is what a feminist looks like” were part of a campaign with Elle magazine and women's right charity, The Fawcett Society, to raise awareness for feminism and promote women's rights. Politicians, such as Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman have been photographed wearing the T-shirt as part of Elle's campaign, which is featured in its December issue.
However according to the Mail on Sunday, the T-shirts, which are part of a larger collection that includes phone cases and hangbags, were made in factories in Mauritius by migrant female workers who are paid 62 pence per hour, a quarter of the country's average monthly wage. The workers sign a four year contract and work a 45 plus hours a week whilst sleeping in “spartan dormitories, 16 to a room.”
Ethical production of feminist t-shirt questioned by investigation
“How can this T-shirt be a symbol of feminism when we do not see ourselves as feminists? We see ourselves as trapped,” said one worker to the reporters. The newspaper toured one of the seven factories on Mauritius and found that workers at Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile, which has a 125 million pound annual turnover, earn just 6,000 rupees or 120 pounds per month.
Since news of the investigation broke, the T-shirts have been pulled from Whistles online store, whilst a store assistant revealed to Reuters that the T-shirts in question are being withheld from sale pending the result of an internal investigation.
Dr. Eva Neitzert, Deputy CEO of the Fawcett Society, claimed that the charity had been assured by Elle magazine and Whistles that the range would comply to their “rigorous ethical standards,” after the magazine approached the organization with the idea last year. “We met with Whistles and, upon querying, were assured that the garments would be produced ethically here in the UK,” said Neitzert in a statement.
“Upon receiving samples of the range at our offices in early October we noted that the T-shirts had in fact been produced in Mauritius, upon which we queried (over email) the ethical credentials of the Mauritian factory, and the fabric used. We were assured by Whistles (over email) that the Mauritian factory: ‘is a fully audited, socially and ethical compliant factory.'”
The Fawcett Society "very disappointed to hear of the allegations"
“We have been very disappointed to hear the allegations that conditions in the Mauritius factory may not adhere to the ethical standards that we, as the Fawcett Society, would require of any product that bears our name. At this stage, we require evidence to back up the claims being made by a journalist at the Mail on Sunday. However, as a charity that campaigns on issues of women's economic equality, we take these allegations extremely seriously and will do our utmost to investigate them.”
“If any concrete and verifiable evidence of mistreatment of the garment producers emerges, we will require Whistles to withdraw the range with immediate effect and donate part of the profits to an ethical trading campaigning body,” concluded Neitzert. Whistles has launched an external investigation into the matter after the news broke.
“We place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues. The allegations regarding the production of T-shirts in the CMT factory in Mauritius are extremely serious and we are investigating them as a matter of urgency,” said a spokesperson for the retailer to Mail on Sunday. “CMT has Oekotex accreditation [an independent certificate for the supply chain], which fully conforms to the highest standards in quality and environmental policy, while having world-class policies for sustainable development, social, ethical and environmental compliance."
Elle magazine had also issued a statement claiming they had been assured that the factory which manufactured the T-shirts was specifically selected for its ethical policies.