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Monsoon 'disappointed' by 'misleading' reports about trading practices

Womenswear retailer Monsoon has branded claims by a Sunday newspaper that an internal audit found its suppliers used child labour and paid workers below the minimum wage as “inaccurate and misleading”.

A piece in The Observer yesterday alleged that an internal Monsoon report, which it claimed to have seen, found evidence of child labour and of female homeworkers receiving less than the minimum wage. It also claimed that some workers are required to work excessive overtime; and in conditions that sometimes break the local laws and the industry’s ethical code.

In a statement, Monsoon said: “It is particularly disappointing that the newspaper reports are based on a fundmental misunderstanding of a series of audit reports which we ourselves have compiled and published. These are designed specifically to help us monitor working practices and health and safety standards at our suppliers and, more recently, at their subcontractors and the homeworks who are involved in the production of many of our craft-based products. We are the only retailer to have reached so far into our supply chain.”

According to The Observer, the retailer said in the report that it had struggled to deal with the problem of child labour in Asia. “Subcontractors monitored thus far have exposed a number of serious breaches. The use of child labour is a major concern… ,” it quoted.  The newspaper added that, according to company sources, a number of child workers were found at suppliers in India over several visits. After the discovery, the retailer worked with a local non-governmental organisations to remove the children from factories and return them to their families.

It is understood the Monsoon report, which was signed off in February, also noted that poor conditions and wages were also rife although this is understood to be a general comment on the issues in the region, rather than specifically about Monsoon’s supply chain.

Monsoon, which is owned by multi-millionaire Peter Simon, has 1,000 stores, split across Monsoon and accessories chain Accessorize, in 54 countries. In the UK, it has 140 Monsoon stores and 240 Accessorize and it has recently launched into the US and China.

The chain has been a key driver of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), the industry code which covers basic standards of ethical behaviour, and it has been lauded as one of the most ethical retailers on the high street. In an interview, the chain’s global ethical trading manager Derek Jackson has said that there are difficulties with monitoring supplier’s use of child workers. “The problem is when our back it turned,” he has said.

The audit also found that 64 suppliers were breaking rules on paying minimum wages, despite receiving enough money to cover the costs from Monsoon.

In total, The Observer alleges that the report shows that 6% of its suppliers fully complied with the ETI code, 19% are listed as high risk, which includes systematic breaches of the code, and 75% were seen as middle risk, which means they supply incomplete or out of date information to Monsoon.

The statement added: “Of course things aren’t perfect. Where we dectect issues, we work with those suppliers to addrem them. In a number of cases we have delisted suppliers where their practices repeatedly fall short of our standards.”

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