Sweatshop workers on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean are earning the equivalent to $1 an hour to make feminist t-shirts which are being worn by British politicians, including the leader of the British Labour Party.
The light gray shirts, which read “This is what a feminist looks like,” cost 9 £ ($14) each to produce and retail for 45 £ ($70). The female workers making them in Mauritius, which lies east of Madagascar, near Africa, are earning 62 pence per hour while working 45 hours per week and living up to 16 in one room, the Daily Mail reported.
That works out to about $1 per hour — a pay rate which would require each worker to work a week-and-a-half in order to afford one shirt.
The t-shirts are especially noteworthy because of who has been seen wearing them recently.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the British Labour Party, has donned the garment in public. And Harriet Harman, another Labour leader, wore the shirt to a Parliament session earlier this week. U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, a leader of the Liberal Democrats, has also be spotted in the shirt.
Harman’s decision to wear the shirt was seen as a taunt of Prime Minister David Cameron, who resisted pressure to wear the shirt for an Elle magazine photo shoot.
— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) October 29, 2014
“The workers in this factory are treated very poorly and the fact that politicians in England are making a statement using these sweatshop T-shirts is appalling,” Fayzal Ally Beegun, the president of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Union told the Mail.
“What is feminist about that?” Beegun asked. “These women have nothing in this world. They are paid a pittance and any money they do receive they send back home.”
“How can this T-shirt be a symbol of feminism when we do not see ourselves as feminists? We see ourselves as trapped,” one of the workers told the Mail Online, which toured the factory where the shirts are made.
The living conditions were confirmed by a factory manager.
“All of our dormitories are identical. There are 16 beds in each room. They are based on university dormitories in China. They don’t need a lot of room because they only use them for sleep,” Francois Woo, a managing director at Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile, the factory where the shirts are made, told the Mail.
The t-shirts, which are being produced by the apparel company Whistles, are part of a campaign being backed by Elle magazine. Proceeds from the effort go to the Fawcett Society, a women’s activism group.
The chief executive of the Fawcett Society said that she was assured that the shirts were being produced in line with their pro-labor, pro-women values. She said the group will investigate the issues raised by the Daily Mail investigation.
Representatives for the three leftist politicians spotted wearing the shirts provided statements.
“Nick Clegg had no idea where these T-shirts were being made and can only assume that the Fawcett Society were unaware of the origins, or they would not have asked him to wear it. He remains entirely supportive of efforts to ensure all women are treated as equals in this country and the world over,” a spokesperson for Clegg told the Mail.
“This was a campaign run by Elle and the Fawcett Society to promote feminism and we were happy to support it,” a Labour party spokesman told the Mail.