Migrant workers in Mauritius

Forced to stay on what turned out not to be the paradise island.

Posts Tagged ‘migrant workers

How Trend Clothing Ltd. adds to the trend

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29 Bangladeshi workers add to the trend of inhumane living conditions.     

Contrary to what their name suggests the conditions we saw at two of Trend Clothing’s dormitories were outdated.

On the first visit of Sunday 10th Jeppe was greeted with an atmosphere of desperation. Payslips were thrust, testimonies given and cries of help were banded about the chaotic kitchen by the 19 inhabitants. The hourly rate of just Rs 15.50 (£0.336) is even less than the previous number of Rs 16.57 (£0.337) bringing the record to a new low and allowing for a monthly salary of between Rs 3500 – 5000 (£75.8 – £108.2) depending on overtime. One woman even told us that of the 43 hours overtime she worked, she was paid for only 32.  Additionally some of the female workers reported that they had not received any salary for the last three months.  A case was opened by the Labour Office in Rose Hill last week under trade union GWF (General Workers Federation) on this issue.

Afterwards the workers took Jeppe for a tour around their dormitory showing several holes in the ceiling and signs of water damage next to the electrical sockets. The risk that the electric wires might catch fire is very great indeed, something which a few workers had tried to minimise by using plastic bags and cartons to plug the holes. We finished the tour with a glance at the one bathroom and toilet facility whose ceiling was rotten.

The next day Annie and Maria Louise encountered similarly de-humanising conditions with their visit to the dormitory upstairs housing 10 Bangladeshi workers. We were shocked to find the bathroom, toilet, washing machine and cooking facilities all crammed into a room of around 12 to 14 square metres, although at least they had been given the luxury of a fridge-freezer. Compared to the first dormitory the general conditions of the rooms were acceptable with roughly two people sharing although there was still a lack of communal living space for the workers to use during their valuable free leisure time.

This account of our visit is aimed at improving the experiences of those few individuals suffering from the sub-standard conditions witnessed. We hope the complaint at the Labour Office will help with this as well.

Panoramic view of the two dormitories and the neighbour, showing the contrast.

Health-threatening electrical system and water leakages.

Toilet, shower and washing machine in the kitchen.

The kitchen.

The outside of the first dormitory, with electrical chords hanging loosely from the roof.

Reply to the parliamentary debate

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Tuesday 6th of July Mrs L. Ribot raised the parliamentary question No. B/638 with the title United Fabrics Ltd. & Esquel Group – Foreign Workers. The parliamentary question (PQ) was based on the article A Road of Shame, posted on our blog. The participants in the debate was Mrs L. Ribot , Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Mr Shakeel Mohamed, Leader of the Opposition Mr. Bérenger, Mr Fakeemeeah, Mr. Obeegadoo and Mr. Uteem. Mr Mohamed comes across as aggressive during the debate, and we feel like we need to make some things clear.

First of all, it has never been our intention to attack the ministry or the government, and it is not our interest either to criticise Mauritius. Our critique should rather be seen as a critique of the multinational companies exploiting migrant workers, which is happening all over the world.

Mr Mohamed starts replying the PQ:

There is no preliminary report yet; all that has been in the media is our personal reporting of the problem. Mr Mohamed continues:

Later in the debate Mr Mohamed says that:

Most importantly, our articles have been a description of what we have seen during the dormitory inspection, not a gross exaggeration of how bad the conditions are. This has, through our blog and local media, been shown in pictures. If the minister wishes, we have more than 600 photos backing us as evidence, as well as videos. The article was originally posted on Maria Louise’s personal blog, and then the media storm started.

Secondly, Jeppe has been here for half a year and did not come with the intention of building a bad reputation of the country. We are both here to understand and experience the Mauritian culture, but when a story like this finds you it would be wrong to let it go. As Mr Mohamed himself states, it is our duty to report that problem.

As Mauritius has an international reputation of freedom of press and freedom of speech, we do not see it as a problem to spread awareness of this through the local media. This was not done to make a big show out of a problem, but rather to help out our fellow human beings in the best possible manner. Our descriptions should be seen as a cry of help from the migrant workers.

We are fully aware of the promulgation of the Occupational Safety and Health (Employees’ Lodging Accommodation) Regulations of 2011, but we will also like to call for a signing of the ICRMW. We are familiar with the fact that that our own home countries Denmark and Norway have not signed this convention either, which is also critical. We are informed about the exploitation of migrant workers in Denmark and the UK (where Maria Louise is residing). Mr Mohamed continues:

If the Minister wants to keep receiving thanks from the International Organisation of Labour (ILO), it might be a good idea to sign convention number 97 and 143.

Mr Mohamed explains: 

These 3 dormitories account for over 10% of the labourers of Esquel, so we consider our findings valid. We have never claimed to be researchers, so if the Minister wants to give us that honourable title it is for his own account. Our inspections are done voluntarily, with no economic backing or hidden agendas. We are only able to comment on what we have seen ourselves, and the Ministers’ use of statistics is not enough to cover up these rotten apples.


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We are proud to have The Road of Shame published in a Week-End. We need to make a change, and this is a step towards it!

A Road of Shame

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Inhumane conditions along the Royal Road, Beau Bassin!

Many Mauritians commute on the Royal Road between Port-Louis and Rose Hill on a daily basis. Stuck in traffic you could wonder what they are thinking about. A thought that probably rarely crosses their minds is what can be found behind some of the façades along the road. Amnesty International Mauritius Section went to discover.

June 19 2011, Amnesty International Mauritius Section, together with trade unionist Fayzal Ally Beegun, went to inspect dormitories for migrant workers in Coromandel, Chebel and Beau Bassin. The sights visited were dormitories of Universal Fabrics Ltd. and Esquel Group. In the over-crowded dormitories we found migrant workers from India, China and Madagascar.

The first dormitory in Coromandel, located just behind the Royal Road, is hosting 37 Indian migrant workers working for Universal Fabrics Ltd. Some of the workers are sleeping on thin rotten mattresses; two of them do not have a mattress but are sleeping directly on the wooden bottom of the bunk bed. Each worker is given 1000 Rs (£22) a month for food, and a cooker is hired to cater for them in what is a very filthy kitchen. When asked whether they have their passport and worker permit, the classical answer comes up. The employer keeps them safe in the factory, which is a clear violation of Mauritian law. The bathroom and toilet facilities are disgusting. None of the workers are interested in going on the record in fear of being deported, though they did show us their payslips; they are paid 19 Rs (£0.42) an hour.

The door-less entrance and the home of a Chinese Migrant worker: 1 x 1 x 1,80 meters.

The second dormitory, where workers for Universal Fabrics Ltd. live, is found directly on the main road, entering by a really unsafe spiral staircase. Here conditions are even worse than at the first dormitory. Living here are 28 Indian migrant workers, mainly from Tamil Nadu. Especially one room attracts attention. The room used to be occupied by more workers, but due to a leaking toilet system, sanitation water is leaking into the room. There is a horrible smell in the room – inhumane conditions. The workers explain that when complaining they receive no response from the management. Additionally, they tell us that when it is raining water leaks though the ceiling and the electrical installations in the ceiling sparks and burns the ceiling! Dark spots are seen all over. We find out that there is another entrance to the dormitory, found on the ground floor. Actually, this door, facing the side road, is broken allowing you to walk directly into the dormitory. One can wonder whether the employer cares for their employee’s safety at all.

We went visiting the two dormitories of Esquel Group, which is hosting migrant workers from China and Madagascar. Conditions here are even worse, and it seems as if it is escalating. The conditions are ‘creative’, using a positive word, and it is impressive how they manage to fit so many people into one room. The rooms inspected at the Chinese dormitory had an average of 10 to 14 people living in rooms between the size of 20-25 square meters, accompanied with one bathroom and one toilet. As for the Malagasy dormitory there are 70 and 60 young women living on each floor, all living under inhumane conditions.

Esquel Group’s five E’s – is there a sixth one missing?

As a big multinational national company, Esquel Group represents its internal and external strategy in what they call an “e-culture”. This is represented by the five words ethics, environment, exploration, excellence and education. This sounds very humane and decent, but you could question whether the well-paid bosses or marketing directors have ever seen the dormitories of some their own workers. I would suggest that they look up “exploitation” in the dictionary, take the word for what it is and go visit the dormitories of their own workers. Probably that would make them reconsider the choices of ethics and environment, and substitute it with exploitation. It would also be useful to flip back a couple of pages and look under “d” and search for “dignity”.

As a costumer you should take expatriate Graham Parley’s, Director of Manufacturing for the Esquel Group in Mauritius, words into consideration:  “If you purchase a 100% cotton shirt in the USA or Europe from brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike, Lands End, JC Penney, Marks & Spencer, and Nordstrom, then there is a very good chance it was manufactured and supplied by Esquel.”(1) When buying apparel from one of these brands, you are likely to be supporting a business that has big difficulties living up to the high standards they put on paper. Think about that the next time you go shopping, please.

(1) http://mauritius-expatriate.blogspot.com/2009/06/expatriate-in-mauritius_09.html