Workers Describe 'Climate of Fear' at Ralph Lauren Supplier

Factories routinely subjected workers to forced overtime, verbal abuse and poor working conditions.

A new BBC report is shedding light on exploitation allegations by Indian workers supplying goods to several premium brands and retailers.

According to the report, several workers in a poverty-stricken region of southern India spoke of routine abuse working for a supplier to luxury clothing brand Ralph Lauren. The women said supervisors would sometimes force workers to stay overnight to finish work, sleep on the factory floor, and then re-start a full day on just two hours of sleep. The “climate of fear” they describe included shouting and threatening supervisors, who say they will fire workers who don’t stay for overtime despite providing no notice.

Several other retailers were implicated in the expose, including U.K. chains Tesco and Marks & Spencer. Workers supplying those establishments said they don’t get bathroom breaks and barely have time to drink water or eat lunch.

According to the BBC, Action Aid, a nonprofit focused on the garment industry, said “forced overtime, verbal abuse and poor working conditions were routine at the factories in question.” India is the second-largest employer of garment workers, second only to China, and corruption reportedly dominates the regulatory system.

Ralph Lauren has previously committed to “conducting (its) global operations ethically with respect for the dignity of all people who make (its) products,” and has provided a statement to the BBC saying that it is “deeply concerned by the allegations.”

But one anonymous source, the owner of a clothing supplier, told the news outlet that the brands themselves were to blame in the end, saying their push for cheaper clothing to maximize profits means they push their suppliers “to a level wherein you have to do the exploitation in order to survive." 

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