Sri Lanka Brief
InternationalSri Lanka Sweatshop ‘Slaves’ Earning £4.30 a Day Making ‘Empowering’ Beyonce Clobber

Sri Lanka Sweatshop ‘Slaves’ Earning £4.30 a Day Making ‘Empowering’ Beyonce Clobber

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EXCLUSIVE by JAMES MILLS.
 BEYONCE’S new high street sportswear range for Topshop is made using sweat shop labour earning just £4.30 a day, we can reveal.The revelation heaps more pressure on under-fire fashion tycoon Sir Philip Green, who faces a grilling from MPs about his role in the collapse of BHS.
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The star . . . Beyonce shows off leotard from her range Ivy Park

The chain’s demise put 11,000 jobs at risk and left a £570million pensions black hole.Beyonce says she wants her Ivy Park gym gear to support and inspire women — while Topshop claims it “empowers women through sport”.

But poverty-stricken seamstresses making some of the clothes in the MAS Holdings ­factory in Sri Lanka earn just £4.30 a day.

It would cost them more than a month’s wages to buy a pair of Beyonce’s £100 leggings.

The workers, mostly young women from poor rural villages, can only afford to live in boarding houses and work more than 60 hours a week to make ends meet.

Most are reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

Campaigners insist the women are being exploited and treated like slaves.

The worker . . . machinist we spoke to said there was little opportunity to escape poverty

The worker . . . machinist we spoke to said there was little opportunity to escape poverty The worker . . . machinist we spoke to said there was little opportunity to escape poverty

One machinist told The Sun on Sunday: “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners. They want the foreigners to think ­everything is OK.”

Beyonce, 34, previewed last month’s launch at Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store in London with a sizzling video on YouTube.

She said: “My goal with Ivy Park is to push the boundaries of ­athletic wear and to support and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than your physical appearance.

“True beauty is in the health of our minds, hearts and bodies.

“I know that when I feel physically strong, I am mentally strong and I wanted to create a brand that made other women feel the same way.”

Beyonce and rapper hubby Jay Z are worth a combined £760million.

She named the 228-piece Ivy Park range after their four-year-old daughter Blue Ivy.

In 2013 Beyonce headlined the Chime for Change gig at Twickenham to raise cash for struggling women and girls around the world.

The star was joined by Jay Z during her 45-minute set for the gig, which raised £2.8million.

Sir Philip, 64, took more than £400million out of BHS before ­selling it for £1 last year. He was spotted with his new £100million yacht in Monaco last month.

Green was spotted with his new £100million yacht in Monaco in wake of the BHS crisis

Green was spotted with his new £100million yacht in Monaco in wake of the BHS crisis FJMG/spreadpictures.com

 


Beyonce, meanwhile, is busy promoting her new album Lemonade with a series of sell-out gigs.

The album features a track called Freedom about black emancipation.

One sewing machine operator, 22, told us she cannot survive on her basic wage of 18,500 rupees (£87.26) a month, just over half the Sri Lankan average of £164.

She works 9¾ hours a day, Monday to Friday, with a 30-minute lunch break. She has to work Saturdays and overtime in the week.

The monotonous work involves stitching clothes alongside hundreds of other women.

Speaking at her cramped 100-room boarding house near the factory in Katunayake, close to Colombo airport, she said: “All we do is work, sleep, work, sleep.”

Beyonce is busy promoting her new album Lemonade with a series of sell-out gigs

Beyonce is busy promoting her new album Lemonade with a series of sell-out gigs Vantage News

 

She shares a basic 10ft by 10ft room with her 19-year-old sister for which they each pay 4,000 rupees a month, or £18.86.

The farmer’s daughter, from a remote village 200 miles away, said: “We don’t have our own kitchen or shower, it’s just a small bedroom. We have to share the shower block with the men so there isn’t much privacy. It is shocking and many of the women are very scared.

“We don’t have much spare money and what we do have we send back to our family.”

Like thousands of other women working in garment factories in Sri Lanka, the sisters were forced to move to find work.

The older sister added: “We had to come and work here because our father could not afford to feed us and there are no jobs there.

“We have no choice. I have worked here for three years now and it was very difficult at the beginning but I am used to it now.

The factory . . . staff work around ten hours a day with a 30-minute break

The factory . . . staff work around ten hours a day with a 30-minute break The factory . . . staff work around ten hours a day with a 30-minute break Kevin Dunnett

“And it’s better now that my ­sister is here with me.” Her sister said: “I miss home.

“The work is hard — it’s just the same, same, same every day.

“We don’t get to go home much because we work all the time. They say if you work you can go up, up, up, but that’s just office workers. For us it stays the same always.”

Their three-storey boarding house has a strict 10.30pm curfew after which the gates are locked, mainly for their own safety.

The communal shower block was only installed last month and the landlord hiked the rent by 500 rupees a month to pay for it.

They previously washed in a communal well. The workers are not entitled to sick pay and get no paid holiday in their first year.

Another machinist we spoke to, who has worked for the company for 11 years, said there was little opportunity to escape poverty.

The glitzy launch . . . fans at Topshop hoping to buy a Beyonce garment

The glitzy launch . . . fans at Topshop hoping to buy a Beyonce garment News Group Newspapers Ltd

 

The 40-year-old, who lives in a compound made up of ten basic rooms built from breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofs, said her basic wages were 21,000 rupees per month, or £99.

She said: “I have worked here many years and my money is a bit more now. I have to work many hours overtime to pay for everything and there is no money left afterwards.”

MAS Holdings is owned by Sri Lankan tycoon Mahesh Amalean, 61, and his two brothers.

It employs 74,000 workers, 70 per cent of them women, in 48 factories in 15 countries across Asia.

The company says on its website that it works to promote “gender equality and women’s empowerment” and helps workers “to achieve a well-rounded and holistic life-experience”.

MAS is not breaking any laws and even the poorest workers are paid more than the legal minimum wage of 13,500 rupees a month.

But campaigners say a living wage is nearer 43,000 rupees.

Jakub Sobik, from the charity Anti-Slavery International, said: “This is a form of sweat shop slavery.

“There are a number of elements here that tick the boxes in terms of slavery, the low pay, restriction of women’s movement at night and locking them in.

The woman we spoke to lives in a cramped guesthouse

The woman we spoke to lives in a cramped guesthouse Kevin Dunnett

 

“Companies like Topshop have a duty to find out if these things are happening, and it has long been shown that ethical inspections by these companies are failing. They should be replaced by independent inspections.”

The Arcadia group, which owns Topshop, claims it enforces a “code of conduct” on suppliers.

It states: “When customers buy our goods they have to be sure they have been made under acceptable conditions. That means without exploiting the people who make them.”

The group adds that all ­suppliers must provide “decent working conditions”.

But Owen Espley, sweat shops campaigner for anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: “The superyachts and luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the likes of Philip Green are a far cry from the grim reality facing garment workers in Sri Lanka.

The clothes . . . the singer’s range includes shirts and vests Ivy Park

Ivy Park

“Unless the fashion industry is transformed, women will continue to be exploited to ­produce clothes for the UK high street.

“As long as brands remain unaccountable for conditions in their suppliers’ factories, ­garment workers and their ­families will suffer.”

A Topshop spokeswoman said: “Ivy Park has a rigorous ethical trading programme.

“We expect our suppliers to meet our code of conduct and we support them in achieving these requirements.”

A statement by Ivy Park said: “Ivy Park has a rigorous ethical trading programme.

“We are proud of our sustained efforts in terms of factory inspections and audits, and our teams worldwide work very closely with our suppliers and their factories to ensure compliance.

“We expect our suppliers to meet our code of conduct and we support them in achieving these requirements.”

The SUN

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