activism corporate responsibility

clothing companies respond on labour practices

I wrote to a number of clothing companies last week as part of the Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops campaign. As usual, the replies claim that all is above board, but it’s strange how different people find different things when they go looking for abuses of foreign workers.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the replies I’ve had so far.

French Connection:

We do indeed work very closely with all our suppliers and factories and provide them with a code of conduct to ensure that the materials they use adhere to our standards. We recognise our responsibility towards the workers employed in factories, manufacturing products on our behalf and work closely with our suppliers to set standards by which they must operate, these are policed during regular visits to factories. Within our code of conduct we confirm that suppliers provide working conditions for its workers which are safe and which exceed the minimum legal standards for the country in question, do not employ workers who are below the applicable legal working age, pay their workers fair remuneration for the work required of them and in any event, above any legally imposed minimum wage, maintain good standards of comfort and hygiene and adhere to safe and environmentally friendly working practices.

We are not currently members of the ETI although we are in the process of reviewing and updating our policies, procedures and standards to ensure they are up-to-date with current guidance.  We also intend to publish our policies and standards on completion of the review.


We do not hide behind the ETI base code. With thousands of people involved in our global supply chain, our policy is to work with a factory and or individual if the code is breached in anyway.

Alexon Group (Dash, Ann Harvey and others):

Ethical policy… is a focus for Alexon Group that we are committed to developing. In addition to our current processes of visiting our factories globally to ensure stringent working practices are adhered to, we are building upon further initiatives that we will be proud to implement and communicate in coming months, with our valued customers and with organisations such as Labour Behind the Label, who recently published its Let’s Clean Up Fashion report.

John Lewis:

We support the concept of a living wage but this is an extremely complex issue which we believe many parties including national governments, suppliers and retailers all play a role. Where we have concerns we work with our suppliers and other third parties to improve as our approach is to build long-term relationships with our suppliers and their workers.


  1. Well, the replies are always the same. No matter what the company, or what you ask them, you get the standard response: that they have a code of conduct, that they ‘work closely’ with suppliers, etc. It’s a cut and paste PR letter.

    (You can tell the French Connection is a cut and paste job, because they mention materials adhering to their standards, which I didn’t bring up)

    Technically, they tell the truth. Many of them do inspect the factories. But there are reasons why they never find anything wrong – they announce their visit beforehand. The suppliers then brief staff to lie about conditions, with the threat of the sack if they reveal their real hours. They’re given pay slips to show the inspectors that bear no relation to their actual wages. All of that has been proven many times over by local activists.

    The charities go in undercover, without announcing their visit, and find totally different things. You see what you want to see. That’s what makes this issue so difficult, and why there needs to be an independent certifier on labour rights.

  2. This is a hard one.
    I’ve lived in the Third World for many years and know that people living in very poor countries would rather work for low wages than for no wages.
    The idea of ‘minimum wage’ is OK in theory but often ends up with certain people unable to work at all.
    The thing I don’t like is big companies pretending to their buyers that they are ‘ethical’ when they are not.
    Plainly, we must expect to be lied-to by ‘approved’ inspections in every area of life. Web-sites like this can help us be aware of what may really be happening. When there is really BLATANT exploitation we can maybe shout. Otherwise …. c’est La Vie.
    But at least it keeps the bully-boys guessing. They ARE being watched….

  3. I think what I object to is a seamstress in a factory in Bangladesh being paid 20p to sew a shirt which is then sold for £20 in the shop. All the profit goes to the person who’s name is on the label, rather than the person who actually did the work.

    There is no reason, other than pure greed, why the worker’s share could not be considerably more.

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