A campaign T-shirt worn by British political leaders and celebrities to promote feminism has been withdrawn from sale following claims that it was manufactured in a sweatshop. A The Mail on Sunday claimed that the garment, which sports the slogan, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” is the handiwork of women in Mauritius who sleep 16 to a room and earn 62 pence ($1) an hour. Photographed on the likes of actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Watson, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and opposition leader Ed Miliband, the shirt is the brainchild of British Elle, which produced it in collaboration with the nonprofit Fawcett Society to promote its feminism-themed December issue. All proceeds from the shirt, which was made and sold at Whistles for £45 ($71), were to benefit the Fawcett Society’s work in championing women’s rights.
Both Elle and the Fawcett Society say they received multiple assurances that the shirt was ethically produced.
““We met with Whistles over the summer to discuss the T-shirt design and production and, upon querying, were assured that the garments would be produced ethically here in the U.K.,” the organization says in a statement. “Upon receiving samples of the range at our offices in early October, we noted that the T-shirts had in fact been produced in Mauritius, upon which we queried—over email—the ethical credentials of the Mauritian factory, and the fabric used. We were assured by Whistles—over email—that the Mauritian factory is a ‘fully audited, socially and ethical compliant factory.'”
A female worker at one of the factories the Mail visited, however, painted a different story. “How can this T-shirt be a symbol of feminism when we do not see ourselves as feminists?” she asked the reporter. “We see ourselves as trapped.”
“I have worked here for four years and I have not been able to see my son or husband in Bangladesh during all that time,” another said. “We work very hard, sometimes 12 hour days, for not much money. I send all my money home and could not afford to fly back and see my family.”
Whistles, for its part, says it’s “shocked” by the claims and will be investigating the matter.
“The allegations regarding the production of T-shirts in the [Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile] factory in Mauritius are extremely serious and we are investigating them as a matter of urgency,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that our products are safe for consumers’ use and manufactured under safe, fair, and humane working conditions.”