05/11/2014 05:34 GMT | Updated 05/11/2014 14:59 GMT

Mail On Sunday Feminist T-Shirt Sweatshop Report Fiercely Denied By Fawcett Society

In a potentially awkward turn of events for the Mail On Sunday, a women's group has strongly rejected claims that T-shirts sold as part of a pro-feminist campaign were made in a sweatshop.

In direct contrast to the Mail's report, The Fawcett Society said that evidence it had seen "categorically refutes" the assertion that the 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirts produced by Whistles and sold for £45 were made under sweatshop conditions in Mauritius, as reported last weekend.

But a spokesman from The Mail on Sunday has told HuffPost UK that the newspaper is sticking 100% by its story.

The top - produced in collaboration with Elle magazine - drew controversy after the paper claimed they were being produced in appalling conditions where the women machinists sleep 16 to a room.

The group had faced claims that women were paid 62p an hour to make the T-shirts, which were proudly worn by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman proclaiming their feminist credentials but David Cameron refused, prompting anger at the prime minister for not joining in.

The Mail On Sunday cover from November 2nd

But now, Eva Neitzert, deputy chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said she was "pleased to confirm" that the group had seen "expansive and current evidence" from Whistles that they used "ethical standards" to produce the clothing and that the collaboration would continue.

"We have been particularly pleased to receive evidence that 100% of workers are paid above the government-mandated minimum wage and all workers are paid according to their skills and years of service, the standard working week is 45 hours, and workers are compensated (at a higher rate of pay) for any overtime worked, there is a high retention of staff and employees are offered training and development," she said.

The comments appear to contradict the The Mail on Sunday report, which came after the paper toured one of six factories on the island owned by Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile, (CMT) which produces the garments.


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It reported the workers were earning just 6,000 rupees a month - equivalent to £120 - just a quarter of the country's average monthly wage, and around half of what a waiter earns.

At the time, Fayzal Ally Beegun, president of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Union, told the paper: "The workers in this factory are treated very poorly and the fact that politicians in England are making a statement using these sweatshop t-shirts is appalling."

But Ms Neitzert rejected the paper's claims saying: "The evidence we have seen categorically refutes the assertion that the 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirts produced by Whistles were made in a sweatshop.

"Whilst we have confidence in the evidence provided to us, we are currently working closely with an international trade union body to scrutinise it so that we can be absolutely assured of its provenance, authenticity and that all findings are robust and factual.

"Further, whilst Fawcett has a UK remit, we are nonetheless acutely concerned with the inequalities women across the globe face. We recognise that investment in developing countries is vital and support this provided decent labour standards are adhered to."

Responding to the claims, many were quick to berate the paper for its original report.

Laura Harvey, lecturer in the sociology of media at the University of Surrey, also condemned the newspaper’s "cynical" report.

“It was a cynical political move against an important feminist campaigning organisation. If the Daily Mail really cares about workers’ rights why aren’t they running stories about the garment industry more widely and the campaigns to improve worker’s rights?” she told the Guardian.

A spokesman from The Mail on Sunday hit back at the criticism: "Statements from the Fawcett Society and Whistles do not contradict a single fact that was published in The Mail on Sunday last weekend and we are standing by our story 100 per cent.

"Workers at the CMT factory in Mauritius are paid 62p per hour and earn the equivalent of one quarter of the country’s average monthly wage. They sleep in bunk-bed dormitories, 16 to a room.

"We spoke to one worker who sends all her money home to Bangladesh and has been too poor to return to see her family for four years.

"The president of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Union described these conditions as “sweatshop”. We are advised that the Government minimum wage in Mauritius is particularly low and that unions prefer to compare salaries to a “living wage” which is more than double the pay offered by CMT."

The t-shirts hit the headlines last month when Miliband and Clegg posed in them for photographs for Elle magazine as part of a campaign by the Fawcett Society - which receives all the profits - to promote women's rights.

After David Cameron refused repeated requests to join them, Harman, the Labour deputy leader, then wore one at Prime Minister's Questions in an attempt to embarrass him.

UPDATE: This story has been updated from its original version to add comments from The Mail on Sunday.