Sunday, November 21, 2010

Image and Reality

Monsoon, the fashion chain that pioneered ethical shopping, has used suppliers in India who employ child labour and pay workers below the minimum wage, the Observer has discovered in embarrassing revelations thrown up by the company's own investigations. The company is owned by Peter Simon, who is reported to be worth £250m. Simon opened his first Monsoon store in London in 1973 and the first Accessorize followed in 1984. The company now has about 1,000 stores in 54 countries, including 400 in the UK.

It acknowledged that children have been discovered working in its supply chain; women working from home may have been paid less than the legal minimum wage; some workers are regularly required to work excessive overtime; and conditions in suppliers' factories sometimes break both local laws and the industry's own ethical code.

A company insider accused Monsoon of caring more about profits than workers' wellbeing. He said the firm's management had made matters worse by demanding suppliers cut their prices to help the company through a rocky financial patch two years ago. "All the management wanted was to cut down the prices. It is highly unfair to ask the suppliers to pay better wages if Monsoon Accessorize is itself not wanting to pay fair prices for a product," he said.

Samantha Maher, policy coordinator at Labour Behind the Label, writes "The fact is that most "ethical" work done by retailers such as Monsoon amounts to little more than window-dressing, hiding the exploitation that the entire fashion industry is based on. Fashion retailers scour the globe looking for suppliers who will agree to the lowest price possible, accept unreasonable terms of trade and take on all the risks and difficulties of producing clothing for the constantly changing taste of the British consumer. This cost and risk-cutting is inevitably passed down to the people at the bottom: the women and children in large factories, small sweatshops and their own homes. They remain completely invisible."

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