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Tesco accused over cheap labour and 'death trap' factories

LONDON - High street giants Tesco, Primark and Asda are under fire this morning for their use of Bangladeshi factories that pay workers just 5p an hour to make their cheap clothes.

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According to a report out today from charity War on Want, workers in Bangladesh are regularly working 80 hours a week for just 5p an hour, in what it describes as "potential death trap factories", to produce cheap clothes for British consumers.

In its 'Fashion Victims' report, the charity said that more than 5,000, mainly women, workers at six Bangladeshi factories in the capital Dhaka make clothes for the three bargain retailers at wages well below the living wage.

A living wage in Bangladesh is calculated to be a minimum £22 a month, but War on Want's report shows workers are earning as little as £8 a month. Better paid sewing machine operators receive only £16 a month, which equates to 5p an hour for the 80 hours they regularly have to work each week.

Primark, Tesco and Asda have all made public commitments to the payment of a living wage to suppliers and have also pledged that their suppliers must not be required to work more than 48 hours a week on a regular basis. However, War on Want says it found people working as many as 96 hours a week.

Louise Richards, chief executive of War on Want, said: "Bargain retailers such as Primark, Asda and Tesco are only able to sell at rock-bottom prices in the UK because women workers in Bangladesh are being exploited.

"The companies are not even living up to their own commitments towards their overseas suppliers. The Labour government must bring in effective regulation to end such shameful practices."

As well as poor pay and long hours, the report also highlighted the dangerous conditions that Bangladeshi workers toil in. Between February and March of this year more than 100 workers were killed in factory collapses and fires. War on Want claims that staff are often locked in unsafe buildings with fire exits blocked.

The release of the report is timed to coincide with the annual general meeting of Primark's parent company, Associated British Foods, in London. Primark made profits of £185m in 2005 on revenues of £1.3bn.

Wal-Mart owned Asda had sales last year of £14.9bn, while Tesco had sales of £41.8bn and £2.21bn in profits.

War on Want is promoting its own ethically produced clothing as gifts for the holiday season. The charity's long-sleeved and short-sleeved T-shirts bear the slogan "poverty is political". These are available online on the War on Want website.

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