Campaigners yesterday called for the government to take action on child labour as BBC's Panorama programme showed how youngsters as young as nine earning as little as 19p a day were being exploited to produce clothing in India.

The documentary, Primark: On the Rack, the result of a six-month investigation, resulted in the clothing firm Primark firing three of its Indian suppliers who used children and with them contracts worth millions.

The three suppliers from Tirupur, Tamil Nadu were subcontracting embroidery and sequin work on dresses from children who worked from home.

Shocking footage showed how some of India's poorest people, including children, work long, gruelling hours for poverty pay on Primark clothes in slum workshops and even refugee camps for Sri Lankans.

According to the expose, the extracurricular working was taking place far away from the Primark-approved and inspected factories, allegedly breaking Primark promises on child labour, working hours and wages.

Yesterday protesters from the War on Want anti-poverty charity took to Oxford Street in London to warn that Primark, which has stores in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling and Dundee, was misleading them by maintaining that its garment workers earn a living wage.

War on Want said the living-wage claim appears on the new "ethical" Primark website launched in recent days to reassure customers over increasing criticism.

According to the site, employees in Primark suppliers' factories have freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

But War on Want says its own research has revealed workers earn well under a living wage and face hostility to trade union representation.

Primark's website also says that it dropped suppliers as a result of the programme, for ethical reasons as a last resort.

But War on Want condemned Primark's "cut and run" approach that meant responding to Panorama's findings by terminating contracts with three suppliers, which could cost hundreds of jobs and a loss of income to needy families.

Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Pressure on Indian suppliers to deliver fast fashion at rock-bottom prices has made sweatshop labour inevitable.

"Again and again, scandals exposing UK retailers exploiting garment workers underline that the public cannot trust stores to police themselves.

"It is high time the British government introduced regulation to stop this shameful abuse."

The Irish conglomerate, which sells one in every 10 items of clothing bought in Britain and has nearly 170 stores nationwide, has now removed all the garments manufactured by the Indian manufacturers.

In a prepared statement, Primark, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, said the sub-contracted work on a "small number of designs" was taking place without its consent or knowledge.

It said: "Under no circumstances would Primark ever knowingly permit such activities whether directly through its suppliers or through third party sub-contractors.

"Primark takes this lapse in standards in its embroidery supply chain very seriously indeed. In addition to sacking the factories at fault, Primark has taken urgent steps to further tighten control of suppliers."