Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Challenging Halfords on wages in Cambodia

BFTF recently bit the bullet and bought a new bicycle with the aim of using it for excercise and, occasionally, actually as a means of transport.

After some research, the one BFTF went for was a Voodoo Marasa from Halfords. It is a great bike, and riding it is an immense joy.

Whilst reading off the serial number it case it ever get stolen, BFTF noticed that it was made in Cambodia.

Nothing wrong with that, and it fact it's great to see the developing world get their share of the global industrial pie. But that share needs to be fair. The workers need to be paid a living wage. The company needs to pay its taxes.

An article on wages in Cambodia gives the example of Heath Kimhuor, a garment worker, whose base salary of US$66 a month is nowhere near enough to support herself and her family. "If I get sick, I don't have any money for treatment," she says. Peoples Tribunal on a Living Wage ,which concluded with a call for a living wage for Cambodian garment workers of at least US$185-200/month - enough to feed a family and provide for their children's basic health and educational needs. This is not a lot when you consider that Puma, which sources apparel from the Huey Chuen factory in Cambodia, reported US$304.3 million in net profits. Puma alone could have paid Huey Chuen's 3,400 workers an additional US$100 a month last year and still made US$300 million in profits.

Another report by the Clean Clothes Campaign supports "the Cambodian trade union's goal of a USD 131/month minimum wage goal as a first step towards a proper living wage, and to produce an action plan to ensure suppliers pay their workers accordingly. At present, the minimum wage for a garment worker in Cambodia is USD 61/month.

An this article suggests that wages have not risen for several years, are well below those of China and can often be as low as 2 dollars a day. In additions, bike manufacturing is often in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which, according to a USAID report, offers pro-business perks such as low taxes and low wages.

So BFTF sent off a message to Halfords (via their feedback page)with two very specific questions:

i) Do the workers manufacturing / assembling Voodoo bikes get paid a LIVING wage (which I understand to be in the region of USD185/per month) and, if not, what is their typical base wage?

ii) Does the manufacturing company pay a fair level of taxes in Cambodia. Specifically, can you confirm that the manufacturing company is not evading taxes by locating itself in a tax free zone or similar.

Halfords Reponse Updates
15Jan13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
11Feb13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
03Mar13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
04Mar13 : Received a response from the Customer Services Team saying that they could not help and that BFTF should call the switchboard who would direct the call appropriately. Called the switchboard and was put through to.... wait for it... customer services. They refused point blank to provide any information and passed BFTF back to the switchboard. The switchboard, bemused at the fact that customer services couldn't provide any customer service, eventually put BFTF through to someone in another department who was prepared to talk to BFTF and who gave their email address for BFTF to send questions to.
4th April : No response so chased up via email
5th May : No response so chased up via email.
13th May : Received an email response from the Halfords saying that the "PR Team" was looking at this issue and would a response to my questions would "hopefully take no more than a couple of days".
4th July : Received the following response from "Automotive PR Manager" :

Suppliers Code of Conduct
Halfords insists that our suppliers adhere to a strict Code of Conduct that governs standards of production and the conditions of employment for their colleagues. This includes ensuring that suppliers’ colleagues receive at least the minimum wage as defined by local legislation – though in the case of skilled workers this is often significantly more.
Halfords conducts regular independent audits of all factories to validate compliance with our Code of Conduct and works pro-actively with suppliers to ensure that they comply with the appropriate local employment laws.
Colleagues in Cambodia are also represented by trade organisations who act in their interests.

to which BFTF bounced back saying thanks, but that BFTF would continue to look for a bike that had been put together by workers paid a living wage:

Separately, BFTF also challenged some cycling publications:

Cycling Weekly Updates
3rd March : Asked whether they could challenge Halfords (and perhaps other bike manufacturers) on this issue.
4th April : They printed the letter but did not commit to actually challenging the manufacturers.
5th May : Chased up via email.

3rd March : Asked whether they could challenge Halfords (and perhaps other bike manufacturers) on this issue.
4th April : Chased up via email.
5th May : Chased up via email.

Notts Green Party
Apr 2013 : Notts Green Party kindly offered to challenge Halfords on this issue (and ask their members to as well! Thanks Notts Greens!

Related Content
Interview with Julia Hawkins on the Ethical Trading Initiative

Related Linkst
"Green" but perhaps a little elitist bikes at Rosa Bikes (check out the comments)

BFTF's bike - it is a thing of beauty

1 comment:

  1. Even the fair wage of the country, usually minimum wage, if lucky to get, isn't enough to live on. live in thailand, and minimum wage is 250-300 baht a day/8-10 USD. that just isn't enough for a family to live on, though they do manage, 2 and 3 generations living in same house out of necessity. cambodians, laos and burmese rush to thailand for better wages, telling you their home country wages are even worst.