Of course when we tell our families and friends that we need to visit our Fairtrade-licensed factory in Mauritius from time to time to reinforce the business relationship they could be forgiven for being a bit sceptical. Mauritius is such a beautiful island, and such a well-known international holiday destination because of its Indian Ocean location, wonderful climate, golden beaches (we could go on!), that attempts to persuade those close to us that we are going there to work could be totally futile!
But our family and friends know that we work very hard when we visit our very special factory in
Mauritius because they know that, as with many “holiday islands” in the developing world, once you get away from the big holiday locations, there is often underlying poverty pervading the island. Mauritius is
no exception. This is why it is so important to us that our factory continues to pay their workers at least 20% above the national minimum wage, that there is no enforced overtime, and that the health and safety conditions and overall “esprit de corps” is strong.
During our visit to Mauritius in November, we spent more time than ever before with the workers. We listened to their individual stories, and heard again all about how the opportunity to work in a factory that bucks the “sweatshop” trend has quite literally turned their lives around for the better in many cases. This is why the factory has such a high proportion of long-standing employees, and why new factory employees tend to stay.
Anyone who thinks that “sweatshop” factories that treat their workers badly, often with a combination of very low pay, enforced overtime, bad Health and Safety conditions and so on are a thing of the past needs to think again. We always hear many stories on our travels – in India last year where there is a massive textiles industry, and in November in Mauritius – about inhumane textiles factory conditions. Sadly, these dire factory conditions are only too often effectively driven by big and uncompromising corporate interests who want ever lower prices.
So what is “enforced overtime”? This label, which makes us shudder bearing in mind what we know about the global textiles industry’s tendency to exploit factory workers, deserves further examination. “Enforced overtime” basically means that for factory employees to earn enough to live on, they simply cannot afford to work a normal 8 hour day. If they did, then put simply, their salaries would not be enough to live on. So they are forced to work many hours of overtime – a minimum of a 12 hour working day is the norm – over a 7 day working week, just so that they can just about make ends meet at home.
Pamela Intelligent, one of our many inspiring factory workers, visited the UK earlier this year to speak to Scottish school children about what it was like to live most of her remarkable life under terribly exploitative factory conditions. Pamela is living evidence that “sweatshops” are most definitely not a thing of the past. Pamela put the phenomenon of enforced overtime very well during her tour by describing herself as a “a modern day slave” during those years. Now Pamela’s life has changed for the better, and we are delighted that Pamela will be visiting the UK again in February and March 2016, sharing her story with children in Scotland, England and Wales during a 4 week speaking tour.
So, our message to UK schools and its students following our latest visit to our Fairtrade-licensed factory in Mauritius is:
Please join with Koolskools, engage with Fairtrade cotton and our ethical factories, and help us lead a crusade to make “enforced overtime” a thing of the past.
Andy and Mike