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British Newspaper Blasts Lidl for Using Cheap Labor to Make Cut-Price Jeans

Photo: Lidl’s weekly promotion pamphlet

Low-cost supermarket Lidl has landed itself in hot water.

The German chain recently launched a 58-piece denim collection, which includes women’s jeggings priced under 6 pounds (around $8.60), but British newspaper The Guardian has called out the company for paying workers pennies per hour to make them.

The limited-edition range hit more than 600 U.K. stores last week as part of Lidl’s “We Love Denim” promotion and The Guardian pointed out that the reason the retailer could sell them so cheaply was because they were made in Bangladesh, where the minimum hourly wage for a garment worker is 23 pence, or about 48 pounds per month (roughly $69).

Lidl has made no secret of its sourcing in Bangladesh. In fact, company buying director Markus Reinken spoke last September of its plans to increase apparel orders from the Asian nation by 20 percent because other countries had become too expensive due to higher costs production costs and a shortage of workers.

But The Guardian report broke down the price of a pair of Lidl’s Bangladeshi-made jeggings to estimate that a minimum wage worker would be paid somewhere in the range of 2 pence and 9 pence for each pair, or between $0.03 and $0.13.

It’s not the first time the supermarket giant has come under fire for shortchanging the people who make its cheap threads. Last summer, more than 1,000 workers at the abruptly-closed Swan Garment and Swan Jeans factories—which counted Lidl as well as its homegrown rival, Aldi, among their clients—in Dhaka demanded the payment of unpaid salaries.

“Times are tough. Customers demand the cheapest possible clothes. Lidl’s success is built on this,” The Guardian said, noting that the company didn’t pick Dhaka because of the high quality of its garments, but rather the bargain-basement price of its labor force. That’s why the supermarket can sell a men’s denim shirt for less than 7 pounds (or $10) and women’s boyfriend jeans for under 8 pounds ($11.45).

The story continued, “It meets a need and it does so by putting the tightest possible squeeze on its suppliers. Lidl argues that it is aware of its responsibilities and is working to improve the living and working conditions of garment workers. It audits its factories, it says, but everyone does. It does not publish the results. Hardly anyone does.”

Lidl, which is owned by Germany’s third-richest man, Dieter Schwarz, plans to open its first U.S. location in 2018.