Three major fashion companies, including PVH, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, Second Clothing, and UK-heritage brand Barbour, have agreed to pay a total of 420,593 USD in compensation to garment workers in Mauritius following the publication of an undercover investigation into labor rights abuse.
Migrant garment workers at R.E.A.L Garments Ltd, which produces apparel for brands including Diesel and Armani, are set to receive reimbursement for recruitment fees and related costs from PVH, Barbour, and Second Clothing following the publication of an investigation carried out by Transparentem, a US non-profit organization dedicated to studying labor rights.
The report, entitled 'I Came Here with So Many Dreams”: Labor Rights Abuses & the Need for Change in Mauritius’ Apparel Factories', examined working conditions at five Mauritian garment factories, gathering data and insights through interviews with 83 employees in 2022 and 2023.
In the report, Transparentem outlines the discovery of numerous indicators of forced labor, a practice categorized as modern slavery by the United Nations' International Labour Organization, and highlights several human rights violations, including unlawful recruitment fees paid by workers, deceptive practices, intimidation, and poor living conditions, notably the lack of clean drinking water and infestations of cockroaches and bedbugs.
After uncovering these conditions at five manufacturing facilities in fall 2022, Transparentem reached out to 18 buyers associated with the suppliers to share their findings and suggestions. These included the likes of Asos, Armani, Boden, PVH, Diesel, and the Foschini Group, the parent company of British brands Whistles and Hobbs.
PVH, Second Clothing, and Barbour committed to compensating workers at REAL Garments to cover the illegal recruitment fees they incurred after conducting independent evaluations of the factory conditions, with PVH committing to repay a total of 390,456 USD, Barbour committing to 19,523 USD, and Second Clothing committing to 10,614 USD.
Seven brands contacted by Transparentem following the publication of the report, including Armani, Asos (parent company of Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Reclaimed Vintage, AsYou, and Dark Future), Boardriders (owner of Roxy, Billabong, Quiksilver, DC Shoes, RVCA, Element, and VonZipper), Foxcroft/The Apparel Group, John Lewis Partnership, Kontoor Brands, and Western Glove Works, declined the organization outreach for remedial action.
Some of these fashion companies stated that they had ceased sourcing from the involved factories by the time of Transparentem's contact yet did not refute prior sourcing during the period of the alleged abuses.
According to the report, Asos has been involved in several Mauritius-based initiatives for migrant workers and endorsed a letter to the Mauritian Government organized by Transparentem. Meanwhile, Western Glove Works offered to allocate 50,000 USD for worker reimbursement but withheld commitment to the organization's proposal pending additional external support.
Ben Skinner, president of Transparentem, said in a statement to the Guardian: “Migrant workers showed great courage in bearing witness through Transparentem. To date, only three brands have shown by their actions that they really listened to them. The cost of reform is high. But the cost of failure to reform is higher.”