How dishonourable, David
HE PLEDGED: to devote life to charity helping poor children of the world WE FOUND: firm selling his clothes used child labour paid 13p an hour
SCANDAL-HIT David Beckham championed the global fight against child labour while children as young as 13 made clothes for the high street giant selling his multimillion-pound fashion range, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found.
We discovered child labour abuse at factories in Burma used by H&M, which sells the former England captain’s clothing line.
Beckham announced a highprofile Unicef fund in 2015 to combat global child exploitation – as teenage girls were working for as little as 13p an hour in H&M contracted factories on the outskirts of Burma’s capital Yangon. Emails leaked earlier this month suggested Beckham hoped his Unicef campaign would help win him a knighthood. However, when he failed to receive one, he branded members of the honours committee ‘unappreciative c **** ’.
One child worker told The Mail on Sunday how – aged just 13 – she toiled for up to 12 hours a day in a factory making H&M clothes and was ordered to hide in the toilets or canteen kitchen when inspectors visited. Although H&M claims to have cracked down on child labour abuses, a report by Dutch campaigners released last week found some Burmese workers producing goods for the firm are paid just 13p an hour – or half the minimum wage.
Burma’s labour laws allow factories to pay new workers reduced rates.
While there is no suggestion Beckham knew of the use of child labour by H&M contractors in the Far East, a charity exposed the practice in 2015 – three years into his store deal.
A labour rights campaigner said last night that Beckham should visit Burma – also known as Myanmar – arguing that as Unicef ambassador he had a responsibility to investigate where the company selling his branded goods sourced its clothes.
Beckham pocketed millions from the five-year partnership with the Swedish firm to produce his Beckham Bodywear underwear and Modern Essentials clothing. The garments were made in Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh and China.
Although the deal has since come to an end – the footballer was allegedly dropped to make way for younger celebrities – The Mail on Sunday last week bought a £14.99 Modern Essentials jumper from a London H&M store. Both ranges are still available to buy on its website.
In Cambodia, where in 2015 campaigners reported evidence of child labourers working at sub-contractors producing clothing for H&M and other high-street stores, we also found workers struggling to survive on meagre wages.
Beckham’s profitable partnership with the world’s second biggest clothes retailer continued despite complaints from labour groups and charities that strict rules limiting the working hours of girls aged 14 and 15 were being flouted in a chain of subcontracted H&M factories in Burma.
Beckham launched the Unicef fund ‘7’ – named after his famous shirt number – in February 2015, three years into the five-year H&M deal. He said he wanted to ‘help change the lives of millions of children’.
He boasted: ‘Everything I have done, my football career, my family, has led to this point. This is the moment for me to do what I can to help children in every corner of the world. This is something I want my own children to be proud of.
‘The need to help children has never been greater and since retiring I have more time and I want to do so much more – 7 represents my ongoing commitment to helping children who need it most around the world.’
At that time, however, Aye Aye (not her real name), who had just turned 14, was working 14-hour days in one of a chain of more than 20 factories 5,500 miles away in Burma.
She began working in the HundredTex factory in Yangon’s Hlaing Thar township at 13. She said she was one of 40 girls under 15 at the factory, where 700 workers produce clothing for H&M.
She earned between £46.50 and £52 a month, including overtime, for working from 8am until 10pm, six days a week.
The teenager – who has no idea who David Beckham is – showed the ID card of a 27-year-old relative to secure her job but said managers knew her
‘Girls were told to hide when inspectors arrived’
real age. ‘When buyers would visit for an inspection, supervisors would tell me and the other young girls to hide in the toilets or the canteen kitchen,’ she said. ‘They would shout, “Hey, buyers are coming. Go and hide”.’
The factory was caught out in one inspection when Aye Aye was 15, and was forced to dismiss 40 children under 16. Aye Aye was re-employed, however, and allowed to work for four hours a day until she turned 16 in January. It is not known which of the
54 Burma suppliers and processors listed on H&M’s website produced Beckham’s clothing, or which of the 79 listed contractors in Cambodia made his underwear. H&M refused to tell us.
The Hundred-Tex factory now appears to follow Burma labour laws, telling Aye Aye she is banned from doing overtime until she is 18. She currently earns the equivalent of £62.50 a month for working from 8am until 6pm, six days a week.
In 2015, Karl-Johan Persson, the billionaire boss of H&M, said: ‘Buying from low-wage countries is the single biggest factor contributing to eliminating or reducing poverty. It’s creating jobs and taking these countries on to the right track.’
The group – whose latest annual profits were £1.7billion – opened 427 stores across the globe in 2016.
Thurein Aung, chairman of Action Labour Rights, said labour violations in Burma were rampant, not only at factories making H&M clothing but also at those creating goods for other stores such as Next. ‘As a Unicef ambassador, David Beckham should know about the situation in the garment industry here,’ he said. ‘Mr Beckham should come here to help raise awareness so that people can learn more about child labour abuse.’
In Cambodia, charity Human Rights Watch found in 2015 that sub-contractors for H&M and other Western firms were using child labour below the legally permissible age of 15, and that those children were made to work as hard as adult employees.
H&M said last night in a statement: ‘It is of utmost importance to us that all our products are made under good working conditions and with consideration to the environment, health and safety.
‘H&M group is one of the leading fashion retailers globally when it comes to sustainability, and have for many years put great efforts to improve working conditions and strengthen workers’ rights. Our presence in the production countries, including Myanmar, is essential in this work.
‘Child labour is totally unacceptable for H&M group. It is clearly stated in our strict Sustainability Commitment that our suppliers must sign and comply with.
‘All workers must be over the legal working age set by national legislation as well as the International Labour Organisation’s conventions.’ Unicef and Beckham’s spokesman declined to comment.
MoS learns H&M made some of its Beckham range in Burma. We track down factories among firm’s suppliers (right and below). Some have used children as young as 13 working up to 12hr days Beckham signs lucrative fiveyear deal with H&M in 2012 to endorse David Beckham clothing line, including T-shirts, pants and knitwear. Sales see company’s turnover soar by £60 million in a year
BRIEFS ENCOUNTER: Beckham in his H&M underwear Leaked emails reveal Beckham used his charity work as part of a campaign to win a knighthood. Reports claimed the honour was blocked over his involvement in tax-avoidance scheme After retiring, he launches charity fund saying: ‘This is the moment for me to do what I can to help children in every corner of the world. I want my own children to be proud of me.’