11 January, 2024Garment workers in Mauritius will receive up to US$508,918 from leading fashion brands Barbour and PVH, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, after an investigation found that migrant workers on the island were forced to pay thousands of pounds for their jobs.
In 2022 and 2023, US-based organization Transparentem, that investigates workers’ rights, scrutinized conditions at five factories in Mauritius and interviewed 83 workers.
Transparentem found multiple signs of forced labour, defined as a form of modern slavery by the International Labour Organization. The report also found workers paying illegal recruitment fees for their jobs, and that workers were subjected to deception, intimidation and unsanitary living conditions including having no access to clean drinking water, and cockroach and bedbug infestations.
After commissioning their own audits of conditions at the factories, fashion brands including PVH and Barbour have said that they will reimburse workers at Real Garment, one of the factories named in the report, up to US$508,918 in illegal recruitment fees.
Migrant workers in Mauritius are deprived of justice. Once they are on the island, they often become the property of their employer who has the sole right to cancel their work permit and expel them with the support from the passport and immigration offices. No clearance is needed from any other authority before deporting a migrant worker.
IndustriALL affiliate Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Publique et Privé (CTSP) has been supporting migrant workers in Mauritius for the last 25 years. The compensation is a major victory for the union and the workers, but there is still more to be done.
Migrant workers are employed in the export oriented industries which include the garment and textile and manufacturing sectors. However, the CTSP has campaigned for national legislation that include the Workers Rights Act to be used to protect migrant workers against wage discrimination, precarious work in short contracts, long working hours, and low pay, and limited access to social protection and other forms of discrimination.
Reeaz Chutto, CTSP president, says:
“Unfortunately, it is no secret that Mauritius, similar to other economies, has opted to leverage its competitiveness through the overexploitation of migrant workers. If a migrant worker dares to denounce their employer for ill treatment or abuse they are deported overnight. Either you adapt or perish. However, the success behind this victory lies in the naming and shaming campaign that the CTSP launched at global level and we also exposed the exploitation in interviews with eTransparentem.”
“We applaud the positive news that workers will be compensated for the exploitation and commend the CTSP for their relentless campaign for migrant workers' rights in Mauritius,”
says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2022, the Migrant Resource Center in Mauritius, which is located at the CTSP offices, launched the Just Good Work Mauritius app, in collaboration with IndustriALL, Anti Slavery International and online clothing brand ASOS. Migrant workers are informed about their rights and can report cases of abuse. The information is accessible in Bangladeshi, English and Malagasy. The union also organizes regular events to help migrant workers to integrate into Mauritian life.