Clothes shoppers at Asda (NYSE: WMT – news) could find messages in the pockets of new purchases as a charity attacks the chain’s record on pay for foreign factory workers.
Campaigners from ActionAid are slipping secret messages into thousands of items of clothing at stores around the country.
Their aim is to highlight what they call Asda’s “lamentable record on paying poverty wages to factory workers in developing countries”.
Asda denies the group’s accusations, claiming it has taken measures it believes will lead to higher wages, better working conditions, fewer working hours and a more highly skilled workforce in places such as Bangladesh.
Under the charity’s campaign, any customer who finds a message will receive an ActionAid T-shirt and entry into a prize draw to win fair trade food and clothing, the charity said.
They will also be invited to send a message to Asda bosses to demand an improvement in workers’ pay.
ActionAid, which is focusing its campaign in major cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester (MNCS.OB – news) and Edinburgh, said it would continue the practice until the company agrees to change conditions.
Emily Armistead of ActionAid accused Asda of dragging its heels over the matter – and said the campaign’s aim was to “sneak this message directly to consumers right under Asda’s nose”.
“There’s a dark side to this company which is the way they treat the workers who actually make the clothes they sell. The women who work in factories in India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries struggle to feed their families despite working long hours in terrible conditions.
“We want to see fashion made fair, and we believe the British public agrees with us.”
The charity’s research suggests that paying a decent wage would cost Asda an extra 2p on a £4 T-shirt.
But Asda says the research is flawed. “The idea that charging 2p more per garment would mean workers earned 2p more is disingenuous,” it said.
“Experts who understand the issue know that the situation of workers in the Asian sub-continent is served best by intelligent action that improves factory conditions in a structured and sustainable way.
“Our pilot project with another NGO, GTZ, has already resulted in a 15% increase in wages in Bangladesh and it is our firm intention to roll out this innovative project to all our suppliers in the coming months and years.”