A Comic Relief t-shirt made by Bangladeshi staff paid just 35p a hour has sparked calls for better protections for textile workers in the country.
Following revelations that the t-shirts – featuring the Spice Girls and promoting charity’s “gender justice” campaign – were made by abused and underpaid female workers, Unite called for legally enforceable and binding agreements to protect workers in Bangladesh.
Comic Relief said it is “shocked and concerned” by a Guardian report revealing the gender equality t-shirts were made in a Bangladeshi factory where female staff are subject to abuse and terrible working conditions.
The £19.80 t-shirts, which have #IWannaBeASpicegirl printed on them, have been modelled online by celebrities including singer Sam Smith, Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill and TV presenter Holly Willoughby.
Comic Relief said the contractor commissioned to make the t-shirts changed from an ethical supplier that had been previously agreed and vetted without telling the charity or the Spice Girls.
A Comic Relief spokeswoman said: “Comic Relief is shocked and concerned by the allegations in the Guardian. No one should have to work under the conditions described in the piece.
“To be very clear, both Comic Relief and the Spice Girls carried out ethical sourcing checks on the supplier (the contractor) told us they would be using for production of the t-shirts.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said the situation is an “indictment of the entire system” currently in place for garment procurement that even charities like Comic Relief cannot be sure who they’re buying their merchandise from.
Burke said, “Charities and promotors really do need to check their supply chains to make sure this sort of exploitation is stopped.
“Our global union, Workers Uniting, has long argued that the way to prevent what are ostensibly slave labour products entering our markets is for legally enforceable and binding agreements in countries like Bangladesh that are backed up by laws enshrining the right to organise into trade unions and for workers to bargain collectively.”
He added, “Following the Rana Plaza fire disaster in Bangladesh in 2003 a legally binding accord was set up on fire safety.
“Workers Uniting believes that work now needs to be expanded to include a legally enforceable accord for union organisation, decent pay and working conditions for textile workers in Bangladesh.”