Anyone know the reason for the extraordinary flurry of stories about factory standards? Or is it just that we’re in the quiet middle of August?
Back after a week off and it seems like every Sunday paper, from the Observer and Sunday Times right down to the Mail and the News of the World, had an expose on standards in garment factories in the developing world. It was weird because I was looking for a common link between the stories - maybe one pressure group was on a PR drive, or had arranged a trip - but it looks like coincidence more than anything. Probably because there’s nothing much else for the business pages to write about in August.
I know not everyone agrees but I have some sympathy for the retailers caught up in all this. The fact that near enough every major high street fashion retailer has been caught up in one of these factory scandals shows how it’s nigh on impossible for them to completely control what goes on in their supply chains.
The problem with these stories is that they disguise a lot of the good work which retailers are doing to improve conditions for people who manufacture garments for them. Every fashion retailer is more than aware of the damage these reports can do and has teams of their own and also external auditors trying to ensure corners aren’t being cut. But even though they’ve made real strides in cutting out abuses like child labour, for example, they can’t police what’s going on in the factories all of the time.
When we ran our campaign “A source for good” a couple of years back we tried to highlight the role retailers are playing in helping people in the developing world, creating real jobs for them and providing them with decent food and shelter. It’s the sort of story the nationals aren’t interested in, but there is a genuine will among fashion retailers to improve conditions and eliminate abuses as far as is possible.
Retailers do need to be careful though, that in the rush to keep the cost of goods down, the move into lower-pirced markets such as Bangladesh doesn’t lead to more corners being cut. Even putting the ethics of the debate to one side, the reputational risk of being embroiled in a scandal over factory conditions just isn’t worth it.
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