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Comment: M&S and Asos should not bear weight of unethical sourcing

Jenny Holloway

It’s easy to gasp in horror when you hear Turkish factories used by British brands like Marks & Spencer, Next and Asos are using child labour.

But it is naive to think this does not happen - not just in Turkey, but in India, Vietnam and other such countries that mass produce clothing. There are double-entry booking in systems, where the machinists sign one book for the auditor and one recording the actual time they have worked. The wages are a pittance.

The Panorama programme raises some burning questions about the supply chain. Are some wages better than no wages for these people? By pulling out of a factory do we jeopardise the earnings available to families in these places? There are no easy answers.

Panorama mentioned that Asos has offered to help the children shown in the footage. That is the Asos we know. Asos helped me set up [London-based social enterprise] Fashion Enter, and has stood by us ever since. It has invested in the Fashion Technology Academy to help thousands of people gain qualifications in garment production, leading to jobs.

The same with M&S. I was a selector there for six years. There is absolutely no way either of these companies would have used the Turkish suppliers in question if they knew those suppliers were subcontracting out.

At Fashion Enter we work with both Asos and M&S. Panorama’s reporter, Darragh MacIntyre, came to us to see how ethical factories are run. He was at our factory for over two hours, so there was a lot of potential footage. It’s a pity this was not shown on last night’s programme to give a different, more balanced perspective.

Production and quality control staff at M&S and Asos will have been absolutely gutted over last night’s programme, because they care about ethical sourcing and working to high standards. These two companies should not bear the weight of unethical sourcing on their shoulders alone. This is an industry-wide problem. Organisations such as the Ethical Trade Initiative, Child Labor Free, of which we are member, and UK retailers need to work together to eradicate child labour.

But it is the Turkish suppliers who should really be held to task. Their ill-gotten profits should be re-invested in supporting the children they exploited, and their families.

Jenny Holloway is chief executive of Fashion Capital and Fashion Enter, an SMETA-approved factory based in north London, which works with Asos, M&S and some smaller, independent labels

Readers' comments (1)

  • If the biggest retailers don't do it, how can competitors afford to 'do the right thing'? The largest companies should champion their industries. Not set unacceptable standards that others are forced to follow.

    The above said, it needs independent monitoring and also include other non UK based big players who (are just as likely to) turn a blind eye. Governments need to hold to account those who fail, with genuine fines or penalties. This just may cajole retailers to do things right from the start?

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