The Telegraph featured an article yesterday about Topshop's use of slave labour to produce their garments. This is not really much of a shocker, Topshop is part of the Arcadia chain, who are hardly the most ethical of retail giants. Unlike other well-known high street retailers, they haven't even signed the Ethical Trading Initiative, which sets bare minimum standards.
Asian workers are being paid a mere £4 a day (40% below the local average wage) to produce the latest Kate Moss range. The factories supplying billionaire Sir Philip Green, employ hundreds of Sri Lankan, Indian and Bangladeshi workers in Mauritius, where they are subject to unhealthy and unfair working conditions, including 12 hour days for six days a week. Prior to this they are snapped up by self-employed agents who grossly exaggerate the wages they will be receiving. Workers then have to cough up seven months earnings, amounting to £725, to secure the job. In one firm salaries are paid according to race. Workers are also set targets and subsequently suspended if they fail to meet them.
Treating workers in this way is abominable, but sadly I don't think it will change to any drastic degree unless consumers radically transform their buying habits. The best thing any of us can do is signal our disapproval by taking our custom elsewhere, to more ethical outlets and stores. I used to be a Topshop devotee, but now I aim to shop in a more ethically and environmentally responsible way, wherever possible. I know I've mentioned other Arcadia stores in previous blogs as a source of ethical clothing, because if you are going to buy from these outlets it's better to opt for the more 'just' option. If enough of us vote with our pockets, perhaps retail magnates will reconsider their treatment of workers. Here's hoping!