Bad news for the Beyhive: Britain’s The Sun reports that the Sri Lankan seamstresses who make Beyoncé’s new line of high-end athletic wear earn just £4.30 ($6.19) a day. “It would cost them more than a month’s wages to buy a pair of Beyoncé’s £100 leggings,” the newspaper wryly observed of Ivy Park, a 50-50 business venture between the Lemonade singer and U.K. clothing chain Topshop. The workers, The Sun noted, are mostly young women from rural villages who live in cramped, overcrowded boarding houses and work more than 60 hours per week—Saturdays and overtime included. “All we do is work, sleep, work, sleep,” one 22-year-old sewing-machine operator said, before adding that she cannot survive on her salary of 18,500 rupees ($125.60) a month.
Still, MAS Holdings, the manufacturer behind the Ivy Park range, isn’t breaking any laws.
The conglomerate, which operates 48 factories in 15 Asian countries, and has worked with brands such as Athletica, Lululemon, Nike, and Patagonia, pays its workers more than the legal Sri Lankan minimum wage of 13,500 rupees ($92) a month.
Campaigners say, however, that a living wage in the South Asian country is closer to 43,000 rupees, or $293.60.
“This is a form of sweatshop slavery,” Jakub Sobik, press officer at Anti-Slavery International, told The Sun. “There are a number of elements here that tick the boxes in terms of slavery, the low pay, restriction of women’s movement at night and locking them in.”
Perhaps equally galling for labor-rights groups, MAS Holdings says on its website that it works to promote “gender equality and women’s empowerment” and help workers to “achieve a well-rounded and holistic life experience.”
“Companies like Topshop have a duty to find out if these things are happening, and it has long been shown that ethical inspections by these companies are failing. They should be replaced by independent inspections,” Sobik added.
But Arcadia Group, the Philip Green–chaired corporation that owns Topshop, insists that it not only enforces a “code of conduct” on its suppliers, but it also supports them in “achieving these requirements.”
“Ivy Park has a rigorous ethical trading program,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We are proud of our sustained efforts in terms of factory inspections and audits, and our teams worldwide work very closely with our suppliers and their factories to ensure compliance.”
All suppliers, the company underscored, must supply “decent working conditions.”
Owen Espley, a campaigner for War on Want, takes a less sanguine view. The superyachts and luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the likes of Philip Green are a far cry from the grim reality facing garment workers in Sri Lanka,” he said. “Unless the fashion industry is transformed, women will continue to be exploited to produce clothes for the U.K. high street.”
And at least some MAS workers are less than impressed with Ivy Park’s claim to “empower women through sport.”
“When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners,” one machinist told The Sun. “They want the foreigners to think everything is okay.”