Panorama Turns Its Attention to the Exploitative Rag Trade
Reporter Darragh MacIntyre discovered refugees and their children working in supply chains producing garments for some top high street brands such as Next, Zara, Mango, M&S and online giant ASOS.com. They are often paid very little, work in harsh conditions and have no rights. The children interviewed said they would prefer to be at school but if they don’t work they don’t eat, many are working 12-hour days and are supporting their families.
The United Nations say that there are more than 700,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey. Efforts are being made to get them into education but it’s estimated that as many as four hundred thousand are working to survive, many of them in the garment industry.
The fundamental message from the investigation revealed that many brands don’t know where or how their clothes are being made, work is sub-contracted out and the auditing process is often not fit for purpose. Surprisingly MacIntyre found children in a vast majority of the twenty factories that he visited under the guise of being a prospective client.
Many of the brands identified commented that they had not authorized work with the factories in question, they were not ‘approved’ factories and that child labour was totally unacceptable.
Jenny Holloway CEO of FashionCapital & Fashion Enter runs SMETA approved factory based in North London and works with leading British retailers such as ASOS.com M&S (Best of British) as well as smaller independent labels.
Jenny (pictured right at The Factory, North London) said:
“It’s interesting to note that MacIntyre did actually come to see our Factory in North London and reviewed how ethical factories are run. It’s a pity that this was not shown on last night’s programme so there was a balanced viewpoint and argument towards our two core retailers. MacIntyre was actually at our Factory for over two-hours so there was a lot of potential footage that could have been used. At 8 pm last night I did receive a phone call from Lorna, one of the production assistants on Panorama, to say that our footage was not used…as I said it’s a pity because it could have provided a different perspective.”
On the content aired last night she added:
“It’s easy to gasp in horror that such “iconic” brands (as MacIntyre called M&S), Next and ASOS are using child labour in Turkey. Having been through the SMETA and Fast Forward audit processes for both M&S and ASOS there’s no way on this earth that we would, if we even considered it, use child labour. However, we would be naive to think this does not happen in Turkey, India, Vietnam and other such industrial countries that are mass producers of garments.
“There are double entry booking in systems where machinists sign in two books, one for the auditor and one for the real time worked. The wages are a pittance…but are some wages better than no wages for these people? That’s the burning question. By pulling out of a factory do we then jeopardise the earnings for families in such places? There is no easy answer here…in principle, yes, there should be trade unions that work for the good of the factory personnel but these are hard places to live and survive, and there is no welfare state to look after non-workers.
“The mention of ASOS offering to help all the children in the footage screened by Panorama was a considerate way forward and actually that is the ASOS we know. ASOS were fundamental in setting up our social enterprise, the company has stood by us when I personally did not have a clue how a factory should be run and has invested in the Fashion Technology Academy to help 1000’s of people gain qualifications in garment production that lead to a job.
“The same with M&S – I was a selector there for six-years and there is absolutely no way both of these companies would ever have used the Turkish supplier in question if they knew that supplier was subcontracting out. This supplier should really be held to task and with the ill-gotten gains of their profits they should be investing in the lives of these children’s, families and production units. They really are the criminals in this situation.
“Production and quality control staff at both M&S and ASOS will have been absolutely “gutted” over last nights screening of Panorama because they do care about ethical sourcing and working to high standards. However these two companies M&S and ASOS, should not bear the weight of unethical sourcing on their shoulders alone. This is an industry wide problem and the importance of organisations such as Ethical Trade Initiative, Child Labor Free, of which we are member, and other UK retailers who import garments do need to work together to eradicate child labour.
“There is also another option of course! Use the UK – you cannot be any more transparent than using a UK based factory that you can actually walk into unannounced that is 45-minutes away from most retail head offices in London. And with Brexit who knows – perhaps the momentum of the return to on shoring will now climb to unprecedented levels.”