While major principals and media players turn their eyes to non-OECD countries to check CSR compliance issues, sector-specific social risks can still be found in Europe.
In France, in downtown Paris (known as the “Le Sentier” manufacturing district) and the inner suburbs (the workshop pool having been partly moved to the city of Aubervilliers to avoid high rents), garment workshops currently operate with little knowledge of applicable local laws and low engagement with provision of satisfactory working conditions.
Though textile workshops do not directly supply to major brands – they are actually contracted by agents based locally – companies could nonetheless be held responsible for supporting unacceptable practices.
SERIOUS SOCIAL RISKS
Where clothes alterations, security tagging and garment manufacturing are provided to competitive deadlines and prices, the other side of the business reveals poor working conditions. SGS’s experience in assessing such workshops has raised the following noncompliances:
-Undeclared work (and risk of clandestine work)
-Excessive working hours
-Unpaid overtime hours
-Unpaid annual leave
-Lack of social insurance
-Unsafe working environment (in terms of fire safety, workers’ safety, hygiene conditions etc.)
The current situation reflects a standard working week of up to 60 hours for an average of EUR 1050, which is not compliant with France’s minimum wage (amounting to EUR 1430,22 gross) and does not take overtime hours into account. Besides, it is common practice not to declare workers to avoid paying associated taxes and social charges.
The workers, mainly coming from China and other countries in South East Asia, are in most cases hired by owners who are themselves unaware about the social requirements. Consequently workers are satisfied with having only one week’s annual leave (when they are entitled to five weeks), even if it is unpaid, due to their poor knowledge of French labour laws.
In terms of safety, the overall conditions are found to be similar to those that major brands and retailers fight against in emerging countries. Several fires have occurred in Le Sentier / Aubervilliers workshops in the past 10 years. The high risk created by the storage of inflammable raw materials and finished goods with insufficient fire equipment is not taken into consideration, and workers regularly operate in small and crowded rooms.
To avoid labour inspection visits, owners of small workshops (fewer than 15 workers on average) close their businesses and declare new ones under other names at the same locations approximately every two years. As the French authorities struggle against clandestine work, most of the workshops are able to provide workers’ identity documents and resident permits. However, the risk is still considered high due to the above-mentioned underground subcontracting, which is common practice in this industry.
As highlighted by recent films and television news, the same situation has been identified in Italy in the main centres of garment and shoe manufacturing in Tuscany (especially the city and province of Prato, Italy’s number one textile-producing site), and Veneto, which is a leading region in many aspects of the fashion industry, including textile production.
To compete with low-cost production countries, European workshops in the textile industry tend to disregard labour laws, resulting in poor conditions for migrant workers and a major brand image risk for companies.