Vienna: Crystals firm Swarovski has been accused of profiting from the forced labour of teenage girls living in Austrian care homes during the 1960s.
The company said it has ordered an urgent independent enquiry into the allegations, which surfaced in Austrian news reports this week.
Swarovski board spokesman Markus Langes said an independent historian will be appointed to probe the claims.
“This has made me very concerned. I know nothing of such charges in connection with Swarovski thus far,” the Daily Mail quoted Langes, as saying.
“An independent historian will be entrusted with the search for the facts,” Langes added.
According to the claims made, young girls living at the St Martin state-run care home near the Swarovski Austrian plant at Schwaz were employed to do ‘piece work’ on the crystals, which are used in jewellery, fashion accessories and clothing.
According to reports, the girls were paid next to nothing for their work.
“I was given a box with lots of little stones, tiny crystal stones. I had to lay the stones on pre-designed templates,” the report quoted one girl, now aged 61 and identified as Johanna P in an account in an Austrian daily, as saying.
“We worked from seven or eight in the morning until five or six in the evening. It was assembly line work. I do not remember getting a penny for my work,” Johanna added.
The homes housed many girls who had been sent there by their parents because they were unmarried teenage mothers.
“It was exploitation of these young mothers. It was made out to be good work, but it was piece work,” a former resident identified as Hermine R said.
“You would have expected youngsters like us to have been paid good money but it was all collected by the bosses who ran the place,” the report quoted Hermine added.
St Martin earned notoriety because of its strict regime and the fact that the only ‘crime’ that most of its inhabitants had committed was getting pregnant in the strictly Catholic region, the report added.