If your suppliers use suppliers who run sweatshops, does that make you unethical?

This recent Channel 4 investigation shows how UK is by no means exempt from sweatshop working conditions.

Channel 4 slams New Look, BHS, Peacocks and Jane Norman on sweatshops

This is not entirely new information. Given we pretty much invented the textile sweatshop in the 18th/19th centuries. And also given well-documented evidence in books such as Chinese Whispers, which was published a couple of years ago.

Last year Primark have were revealed to have suppliers in Manchester in breach of the law.

These stories show just how easy it is for journalists to find examples of poor working conditions all over the world. All you have to do is poke around a bit, and you can find dodgy labour conditions in almost any country. The media are happy to feed on each others headlines and stories for a bit of brand-bashing copy that’s cheap to write.

In this case the Sun newspaper ran a headline screaming about slave labour, the BBC covered the story, as did the Guardian and many other outlets, such as the Daily Mail.

Given the inevitable eventual re-balancing (to a degree) of labour costs and rising energy/transport costs, we can expect many more of these kinds of UK stories in years to come. The media loves a sweatshop tale in these trouble economic times.

The Guardian says: “New Look is a pioneer of so-called “fast fashion” with the entire range changing within a six to eight-week cycle.”

So that puts pressure on the supply chain. But New Look has to make a living and respond to customer needs.

The company does have some useful information on its policies and practices on the web. But it is clearly not engaged in that way the bigger companies like Gap, Nike or Timberland are. But it’s not bad either. Does that mean it’s an unethical company?

Not in my book. If it was making no effort at all that would be different. But the firm has, and is, spending some money on supply chain ethics and makes the right noises. That is encouraging. It has made some mistakes though.

New Look has relied on the Ethical Trading Initiative to speak for it on the web, and not posted anything else on its site.

This is a mistake. There should be a chief executive’s statement on the site, explaining what they plan to do next on the issue.

That communications error aside, has the company been remiss in its responsibilities? It’s hard to say. It’s encou

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