British e-tailer Asos is taking action after the closure of a garment factory in Mauritius left 180 workers, more than half of them migrants from Bangladesh, without pay, food or adequate shelter.
On July 23, Bangladesh’s Dhaka Tribune reported that Tex Knits factory owed its workers two months’ worth of salary payments, citing a dearth of work orders, before it went into liquidation. Its subsequent closure effectively stranded 65 Bangladeshi migrants, who resorted to living without electricity or water after the company cut off electricity and power to the factory dormitories.
Asos, in a response to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) on Tuesday, told the nonprofit it had sourced from Tex Knits since 2014, accounting for a “significant proportion” of the factory’s total output. Asos said it’s in the process of remediating the situation, including liaising with local unions, the liquidators of the factory and the Mauritian government. The company noted that it identified 83 of the affected workers as being from Bangladesh—more than the Dhaka Tribune’s initial count. Fourteen of them, it said, expressed a wish to return home and their repatriation is currently underway. Nineteen have been redeployed elsewhere in Mauritius, and Asos has “received written evidence of this redeployment.”
“We are now working with the liquidators and government to find employment for the remaining 50 migrant workers as swiftly as possible,” Simon Platts, sourcing director at Asos, wrote in a statement. “We are also working with IndustriALL Global Union and CTSP [Confederation of Private Sector Workers], which is providing support and assistance to those affected.” CTSP, Asos said, has confirmed that workers have been paid wages owed for June. “The wages for the month of July, up until 19th, are still outstanding, however we have confirmed with the liquidators that they intend to pay in full by 26th August,” Platts added.
In addition, Asos said it was able to ensure the return of electricity and water supplies at the workers’ dormitories, where they have been allowed to stay. The e-tailer added that it will continue to monitor the situation and “engage with those involved to ensure that workers’ rights and protections remain the utmost priority.”
The plight of Tex Knits’ migrant workers highlights the few protections they have in the garment supply chain. Because the workers’ visas in Mauritius are tied to their employment, they’re not able to seek alternative work without government intervention, which Asos petitioned for.
“Migrant workers often seek employment overseas in order to provide a better livelihood for themselves and their families,” Platts said. “However, they can be at risk of debt bondage through unethical recruitment practices, subject to inferior employment terms and restrictive immigration policies, and also experience exploitation in the workplace.”
John Lewis & Partners, which also sourced from Tex Knits, said in a statement to BHRRC that it was “saddened” to hear about the conditions experienced by the Tex Knits workers. “We stopped working with the factory in May when we were informed that the company had gone into receivership and therefore stopped being a supplier,” it added.