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ByAllan Hall In Berlin for MailOnline
Published: 18:10 GMT, 16 August 2012 | Updated: 18:10 GMT, 16 August 2012
AUSTRIA’S exclusive Swarovski crystals firm has been accused of profiting from the forced labour of teenaged girls living in Austrian care homes during the 1960s.
The company, beloved of celebrities ranging from David Beckham to Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez to Nicole Kidman, says it has ordered an urgent independent enquiry into the allegations which surfaced in Austrian news reports this week.
The claims state that the youngsters at the notorious 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. Reports stated they were paid next to nothing for their efforts.
Forced labour: Swarovski has been accused of profiting from the forced labour of girls doing ‘piece work’ on crystals to be used in jewellery and fashion accessories
One girl – now aged 61 and identified as Johanna P. in an account in Austrian daily Kurier – claimed: ‘I was given a box with lots of little stones, tiny crystal stones. I had to lay the stones on pre-designed templates.
‘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.’
The homes housed many girls who had been sent there by their parents because they were unmarried teenage mothers. A former resident identified only as Hermine R. said: ‘It was exploitation of these young mothers. It was made out to be good work, but it was piece work.
Love the bling: Celebrities around the world adorn their bodies, accessories and homes with Swarovski crystals including Katie Price, left, who has crystal studded tiara, piano and TV and Paris Hilton, right, who has a crystal encrusted mobile phone
‘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.
‘This was exploitation of young girls who at 16 had become mothers and were assigned there by their parents or the state.’
The last names of both women were witheld from reports in accordance with Austrian media laws regarding privacy.
The reports stated that between 20 and 25 ‘nimble fingered’ girls were employed on the Swarovski assembly line out of the factory and that most of the work for the girls aged between 15 and 18 was implanting crystals on to straps.
St. Martin earned notoriety because of its strict regime and the fact that the only ‘crime’ that most of its inhabitants had committed was falling pregnant in the strictly Catholic region.
Following the report on Tuesday it emerged that two other Austrian companies – a jam and marmalade making concern called Darbo and a light bulb manufacturer – also took advantage of the cheap labour which was arranged though the offices of the local authority before a stop was put to it entirely.
Encrusted mp3: David Beckham, pictured with wife Victoria, has an mp3 player that is studded with 12,000 Swarovski crystals
Swarovski board spokesman Markus Langes-Swarovski said an independent historian will be appointed to probe the claims.
He said: ‘This has made me very concerned. I know nothing of such charges in connection with Swarovski thus far.
‘An independent historian will be entrusted with the search for the facts.’
Swarovski is beloved the world over by admirers of bling: as well as necklaces, earrings and watches adorned with the firm’s crystals, David Beckham has an mp3 player that is encrusted with 12,000 Swarovski crystals.
Paris Hilton has a cellular phone encrusted with them while Jennifer Lopez’s wedding band of white gold encrusted with Swarovski sparklers while Nicole Kidman appeared on the red carpet of the 2008 Oscars wearing a necklace that was a combination of diamonds and Swarovski crystals.
Katie Price is the one who seems to be most addicted to the Swarovski crystals. She has a tiara made out of them, a piano studded with them and a TV smothered in them.
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