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‘Worst fashion wage theft’: workers go hungry as Indian suppliers to top UK brands refuse to pay minimum wage | Garment workers

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Garment workers making clothes for international brands in Karnataka, a major clothing production hub in India, say their children are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the legal minimum wage in what is claimed to be the biggest wage theft to ever hit the fashion industry.

More than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka have not been paid the state’s legal minimum wage since April 2020, according to an international labour rights organisation that monitors working conditions in factories.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) estimates the total amount of unpaid wages so far to be more than £41m.

One worker said she only earned about half of what she needed to cover basic living costs, such as food and rent.

“If we had got the wage increase last year, we could have at least eaten vegetables a few times a month. Throughout this year I have only fed my family rice and chutney sauce,” she said.

“I tried to talk to the factory management about it,” she added, “but they said, ‘this is what we pay to work here. If you don’t like it, you can leave.’”

Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC, said: “In terms of number of workers affected and total money stolen, this is the most egregious act of wage theft we’ve ever seen. The children of garment workers are going hungry so brands can make a buck.”

Karnataka is one of India’s garment-industry heartlands, with thousands of factories and hundreds of thousands of workers producing clothing for international brands including Puma, Nike, Zara, Tesco, C&A, Gap, Marks & Spencer and H&M.

An Indian garment worker sits at a table sorting through clothing that is to be sewn together with shirts hanging up behind her
A garment worker in Bangalore, Karnataka, sorting pieces. The monthly supplement to the minimum wage, which has been unpaid, is 417 rupees a month. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Nova said the “indifference and inaction” of all the brands sourcing clothing from the region about the situation facing its mostly poor, female workforce was “shameful and cruel”.

He said that despite persistent demands from the WRC for the past two years, western brands had either refused to intervene or had not acted to ensure that workers making their clothes were paid in line with Indian law.

“It has been almost two years since apparel suppliers have been refusing to pay the legal minimum wage and brands have been letting this continue when they know they are the only ones with the power to stop this widespread wage theft,” he said.

“Payment of minimum wage is pretty much the lowest bar on a brand’s responsibility towards its workforce. If they won’t even insist on this being paid then they are letting a human rights violation on a huge scale continue with impunity.”

The annual cost of living increase to the minimum wage, the “variable dearness allowance” (VDA), was increased to 417 Indian rupees (£4.10) a month in April 2020. The WRC said that as this supplement for low-paid workers, which amounts to 16p a day, had gone unpaid for 20 months, each employee had been underpaid by R8,351 (£83).

Garment suppliers argue that the Ministry of Labour & Employment issued a proclamation suspending the minimum wage increase shortly after it was implemented in April 2020 and that a legal complaint relating to the requirement to pay the increase was still progressing through the courts in Karnataka.

However, in September last year, the Karnataka high court ruled that the labour ministry’s proclamation was illegal and that the minimum wage, including all arrears, must be paid to workers regardless of any other court proceedings.

According to the WRC, apparel suppliers make up the only industrial sector across Karnataka refusing to comply with this court order.

Workers in Karnataka, whom the Guardian are not naming to protect their livelihoods, said that not receiving their pay rise, in the face of steeply rising living costs, had had a devastating effect on their own lives and those of their families, especially their children.

Another woman, who works at a factory making clothing for UK high street brands, said that she had been forced to leave her home and was now living with a relative because she could no longer pay the rent.

“The salary increases we received every year didn’t cover our living costs but did help with things like food for the family and medicine. Working in the garment factories is very painful.

“The brands who buy from my factory demand quality and for the clothes to be shipped in time but aren’t bothered with what happens to me,” she said.

Puma, Nike, Gap, Tesco, C&A, Marks & Spencer and H&M, which are among the brands sourcing clothing from Karnataka, all said that they were committed to paying the legal minimum wage and expected their suppliers to comply with the high court order.

H&M said: “We have made it clear to our suppliers in Karnataka that they must pay the workers legally mandated minimum wages, including all arrears. If they fail to do so, it will ultimately lead to serious business consequences.”

Gap said in a statement: “[We] expect our suppliers to comply with the VDA allowance and arrears. We have established a timeline by which we expect full compliance.”

C&A said in a statement that it had demanded its suppliers comply with the court order and it was “confident” that they would do so. The Dutch-owned multinational said it was expecting written confirmation from its suppliers.

Marks & Spencer said it was working with the Ethical Trading Initiative to “demand” that its suppliers paid the legal minimum wage.

“We have engaged our suppliers in the state directly, making clear our expectation that these conditions be met with immediate effect,” an M&S spokesperson said.

Puma said that its influence on its suppliers was “limited” in Karnataka but added: “We are working with our peers, who source bigger volumes in Karnataka, to make sure that wages are paid correctly.”

Nike said in a statement: “Nike expects all suppliers to comply with local legal requirements and the Nike code of conduct.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We are working with the Ethical Trading Initiative and other brands to ensure this issue is resolved and workers are paid in full.”

A spokesperson for Inditex, which owns Zara, said: “Inditex has a stringent code of conduct, which requires all factories in our supply chain to pay legal wages as a minimum. We are engaging suppliers in the region to urge them to make the VDA payment.”

The statement added: “Wages should always be enough to meet at least the basic needs of workers and their families.”

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Sacred ground: the ancient grove where Yoruba traditions are reborn | Global development

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Through the dim forest, a slow procession of hundreds of people largely dressed in white, some in a trance, others singing fervently, heads towards the Osun River. As they have every August for 700 years, Yoruba people gather here at the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove, a Unesco world heritage site in south-west Nigeria, for an ancient festival celebrating their traditional spirituality.

An Osun priestess on her way to the grove.
Osun priestesses wait for the worshippers to arrive.
Yoruba traditions are still practised by a devout minority.
An arugba, or virgin, leads a procession.

  • Clockwise from top: an Osun priestess on her way to the grove; a group of priestesses wait for the worshippers to arrive; an arugba, or virgin, leads a procession; Yoruba traditions are still practised by a devout minority

Yoruba religious practitioners, adorned with cowrie shells, some with crosses or Islamic beads, pray for protection and offer sacrifices. In a region where Christianity and Islam are dominant, Yoruba traditions have often been cast as demonic – a legacy of colonial violence against Indigenous faiths – but are practised by a devout minority and hold a wide significance for people of varying faiths.

Recent years have seen a growing appreciation of Yoruba spirituality among the younger generation, with more young people becoming practitioners and Ifá priests.

The festival attracts visitors from across the Yoruba-dominated south-west, along with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean.

The two-week Osun festival attracts visitors from across the Yoruba-dominated south-west, along with diasporas from South America and the Caribbean, as well as tourists. Osun, the goddess of the river, is said to have appeared to an ancient warrior, instructing him to bring Yoruba people out of famine, into safety in Osogbo city. In return, they would offer a yearly festival.

Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.
Osunnike Ogundele, one of the grove custodians.

Osunnike Ogundele, 53, wears a shimmering green and gold lace dress, her hair braided with cowrie shells. “I’ve been here all my life,” she says, explaining her mother’s influence, and her own guidance for her children.

“My fondest memories of the grove are our mothers before us who passed on the knowledge we have now. There was so much to learn from just observing them and we are trying our best to pass this on to our daughters too,” she says. “Osun answers all prayers, no one cries to her without leaving with a smile.”

Osunniti Sikiru, 32, a Muslim and Osun priestess, is one of a number of custodians of the grove. She describes how, for Yoruba people, cultural heritage should be understood as predating the advent of Abrahamic religion in the region.

Osiniti Sikiru, another grove custodian.

“Most of our forefathers weren’t Christians or Muslims,” she says. “There’s a big misconception that as a Muslim one can’t combine it with Osun worship. Water is very symbolic in Islam and Osun worship, both emphasise purity. I am still a practising Muslim, I still pray five times a day, my son is named Ibrahim, but Osun worship precedes most religions in Yoruba land.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun, 47, another priestess, chimes in. “One of my daughters is a pastor and my son actively goes to the church, but what I try to preach is a symbiotic relationship between faiths.”

Princess Adeola Iya Osun.
Princess Adeola Iya Osun.

There have been concerns that the Osun River, seen as having healing powers, has been contaminated, sparking fears for the health of the worshippers who wash and drink here. Local media investigations allegedly found dangerous levels of lead, lithium, aluminium and iron, caused by the activities of artisanal miners and large companies.

Last year, pictures of the polluted river caused uproar and demands for government action. A warning by the state authorities not to drink from the river came on the penultimate day of this year’s festival, sparking further anger. Some chose to drink anyway, knowing the river was contaminated, believing they would be protected from ill-health.

An overview of the packed grove during the festival.
Water from the Osun River is believed to have healing powers.
Osun priestess prepares a sacrifice to be offered to the river goddess.
A ram is slaughtered and its blood drained into the river.

Pollution is a serious worry for those attempting to maintain the integrity of the grove and its surroundings.

A committee of custodians leads these efforts, clearing the litter, while preserving the architecture and stone carvings.

Osuntunmishe Oluwo, a local healer.

On the final day of the festival, visitors crowd the banks of the river to meet priests and priestesses for consultation and prayers. Baskets are laid out full of kola nuts, fruits and vegetables.

In a trance, a priestess bellows praises to the goddess, then shares messages and warnings. As devotees arrive for prayers, testimonies are shared by people who have attended for several years.

Iya Osun’s parents had challenges having children, she says. “My mother came to pray to Osun for a child. I’m a result of that answered prayer.”

As the festival ends, the crowds leave the grove and the dense forest, their prayers made, hoping to return next year with testimonies of their own.

Prayers at the edge of the river.

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UNSC Sanctions on Hiring of Workers From N.Korea Do Not Apply to Donbas – Moscow

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea do not apply to the Donbas republics, Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry Pyotr Ilyichev said in an interview with Sputnik.

Earlier, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, said the republic is negotiating with Pyongyang on the arrival of builders from North Korea. In July, North Korea recognized the independence of the DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).

“The recruitment of labor from North Korea is subject to international restrictions established by UN Security Council resolutions. However, it must be taken into account that they apply to the member states of the world organization, which the people’s republics of Donbas are not,” Ilyichev said.

He said Russia will not force Donbas and North Korea to avoid cooperation.



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Polio is circulating again in the West: What we know so far about transmission in New York and London | Society

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The poliovirus is circulating again in the West. A virus that was on the way to global eradication has been detected in recent months in the wastewater of New York and London. This is not unusual, since it can appear in the fecal remains of vaccinated people with the attenuated pathogen. What’s different now is that the poliovirus – which causes the infectious disease polio – has been recorded in an adult in the United States, something that has not happened for a decade, and that samples from the United Kingdom suggest there is local transmission of the disease.

How did the virus get there? To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the two types of vaccines that are used against polio. In countries where transmission is eradicated, an intramuscular vaccine is used. This contains the inactive virus, which is enough to prevent it from spreading in an environment where the pathogen is no longer circulating in the wild and most of the population is vaccinated. The second type of vaccine is made up of oral drops with a live attenuated virus, which is used in countries where polio continues to circulate. It produces antibodies in the blood, as well as the oral and intestinal mucosa. “With this vaccine, the immunized person would not develop the disease nor would they be able to infect others if they become infected with the wild virus,” explain researchers José Jiménez and Ana María Ortega-Prieto, from King’s College London, in an article in The Conversation.

The only two countries where polio remains endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan, with 12 cases and one so far this year, respectively. Normally, when polio is detected in fecal remains in the wastewater, it comes from the excretion of people from these countries, which is not a major problem. What has happened now is that the virus is not just being detected in wastewater, it’s infecting people.

It’s still not fully confirmed that there is local circulation in London, but the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) has warned: “The poliovirus levels and the genetic diversity among the isolates suggests some level of virus transmission both in the areas where positive samples were found and in adjacent ones.”

Local circulation has been confirmed in New York, where one adult has been paralyzed due to the virus. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this case, is just “the tip of the iceberg.” “There are a number of individuals in the community that have been infected with poliovirus,” Dr. José Romero, from the CDC, told news network CNN. “The spread is always a possibility because the spread is going to be silent.”

As was seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a case is detected and its origin is unknown, it is normally a sign of uncontrolled transmission. “For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in a statement. This is partly due to the fact that most people who contract the poliovirus are asymptomatic. Only in about 1% of cases does the virus cause problems: if it enters the central nervous system, it can cause paralysis and muscle atrophy.

What are the consequences of these outbreaks? In both London and New York, vaccination rates are lower than in the rest of their respective countries, meaning there is an elevated risk for children, who mainly affected by this disease. In London, authorities have already launched a vaccination campaign to offer booster doses to one million children between the ages of one and nine.

The road to polio eradication

The spread of polio is limited, at least in countries with high vaccination coverage. But these recent cases show that the virus still presents a risk and completely eradicating it is a complicated task, even if it seemed within reach.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988 with the aim of eradicating polio just as smallpox has been eradicated. In general terms, the program has been a success: the number of polio cases worldwide have dropped 99% since its creation.

Only Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Islamic fundamentalism makes vaccination campaigns difficult, report a few cases each year. And Nigeria, the other country where there is wild poliovirus (i.e. not the virus is transmitted by the attenuated vaccines), has not reported a single case since 2016.

The secret to this achievement is mass vaccination: first with the oral vaccine and then, when the country is already free of the disease, with the vaccine given by injection. Keeping vaccination levels high is key to curbing the virus.

According to UNICEF data, global vaccination levels dropped between 2019 and 2021 by 5%. In other words, 25 million children stopped receiving their doses. Vaccination rates are the lowest they have been in the last 30 years: 81% for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, which are considered a good indicator for other conditions. This means it is likely that polio coverage is at similarly low levels.

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