UK fashion: absolutely not fabulous

There was a time when all that fashion brands had to worry about was securing the services of the latest size-zero supermodel and ducking the odd attack from anti-fur protestors.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Now, however, it seems their responsibilities have stretched to ensuring the people who make their clothes can afford to eat too.

Let’s Clean Up Fashion, a report from charity War on Want and anti-sweatshop coalition Labour Behind the Label, has claimed that many of our high-street fashion brands aren’t doing enough to ensure their overseas workers have a ‘living wage’. It highlights retailers’ ‘empty rhetoric on ethical treatment of workers’, and comes after allegations of several UK retailers flaunting labour laws in countries like Bangladesh.

Matalan and Mothercare are, it says, among the worst offenders. Other firms in range of the wagging finger include Tesco, M&S, H&M and the Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge. It’s certainly not great for Arcadia boss Philip Green. His Topshop chain has already made the front pages recently amid allegations that its Kate Moss range was being produced using ‘slave labour’.

The CSR path is bumpy indeed, as Tesco continues to find too. On the one hand the retail giant is notching up greenie points for its £25m pledge to Manchester University to build a sustainable consumption institute. Tesco’s boss Sir Terry Leahy has also announced he’s all set to raise prices to fund the green revolution.

At the same time, however, the retailer has faced allegations from Christian Aid that it is misleading consumers over the scale of its carbon footprint, and now the Let’s Clean Up Fashion report is including the chain as among those with an ‘unambitious’ and ‘disappointing’ approach to improving the wages of the workers who make their clothes.

Such are the corporate realities of the world getting smaller. Companies looking to take advantage of the global village may find it increasingly hard to stay in the CSR good books. As anyone who’s lived the rural life will know, if you upset your neighbours once, the local gossips tend to make it very hard to ever live it down. Look out for MT’s CSR special in October.

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