This April, “Lemonade” diva Beyonce teamed up with British fashion chain Topshop to launch her activewear line, Ivy Park. But even though Queen Bey may reign supreme for fans all over the world, the women producing Beyonce’s Ivy Park clothing line may not feel quite the same way about the singer.
An article published in U.K. newspaper The Sun claims that workers in the MAS Holdings factory in Sri Lanka are earning just £4.30, or about $6.20 USD, per day. That’s only about 63 cents per hour, accounting for the workers’ nine-hour days and weekend overtime hours.
Although currently under fire for these sweatshop allegations, the brand released a statement claiming it has “a rigorous ethical trading program.”
“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,” the brand said in the statement. “We expect our suppliers to meet our code of conduct and we support them in achieving these requirements.”
The Sun, however, puts it another way, saying that it would cost workers “more than a month’s wages to buy a pair of Beyonce’s £100 [$144] leggings.” Meanwhile, Queen Bey’s defenders say that while the workers’ pay is low by western standards, the company brings jobs to regions with few opportunities for working women. Many believe these low-wage jobs actually help poor workers in developing countries.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian ocean and an increasingly popular destination for tourists the world over. The most popular beaches in the world, like the idyllic shores of Sri Lanka, can draw in up to 1.5 million people in a single day. Yet the sunny beaches popular among tourists are a far cry from the cramped boardinghouses where many migrant factory workers stay. Many of the women working in this factory, like others in the region, come from poor rural villages. They live in boardinghouses and work more than 60 hours per week to make ends meet. Many are afraid to speak out lest they lose their jobs and are no longer able to support themselves. The boardinghouses can be cramped, with up to 100 workers living in just one building, and in poor condition.
Even with our healthcare infrastructure, roughly 25% of Americans still suffer from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours, often resulting from physically demanding work. And as sweatshop workers are subjected to long hours and few, if any, breaks, it’s likely that an even higher percentage of workers at MAS Holdings and similar factories are experiencing chronic pain.
PeoplesWorld.org says that although MAS isn’t breaking the law by paying workers 18,500 rupees per month (about $126 USD), anti-sweatshop activists say the actual cost of living is more than twice that at about 43,000 rupees, or $239 USD, per month.
Beyonce’s Ivy Park line is designed to “celebrate every woman and the body she’s in while always striving to be better.” But the scandal raises the question, “Which women are we celebrating?”
In recent years, Beyonce has made it clear that she is a feminist — and one who is especially concerned about intersectional feminist issues affecting women of color. Two years later, people still remember Beyonce’s 2014 VMAs performance, in which the singer had tongues wagging after she posed in front of bold, bright letters reading “FEMINIST.” It was a clear message to her critics, who have demanded that she “prove her feminist credentials” again and again when white celebrities like Amy Schumer, Emma Watson, and Tina Fey aren’t interrogated to the same degree.
Maybe these issues shouldn’t be in the hands of celebrities. As progressive as Beyonce is when it comes to social issues, it’s important to remember that she’s number 107 on Forbes’ richest list, with an estimated net worth of $267 million.
Yet Beyonce isn’t the only one critics are blaming for the exploitation of Topshop’s workers, according to The Sun. Sir Philip Green, owner of British department store BHS and a collaborator on the Ivy Park line, put 11,000 BHS jobs at risk and wiped out £570 million in pensions last year when he took £400 million from the company and later sold it for £1. Last month, the press spotted Green in Monaco aboard his new £100 million yacht.
BBC News reports that 163 BHS stores will close in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Green commented to BBC News that he was “saddened and disappointed” by the closing.