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Retailers hit by Human Rights Watch report

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A Human Rights Watch (HRW) Report has caused outrage after highlighting that 13 out of 73 Cambodian factories it looked at, have been supplying goods to British retailers.

Adidas, Gap, Armani and H&M are cited on the list which documented the poor working conditions inside 73 factories in Cambodia. Though Marks and Spencer does not specifically disclose its suppliers’ names, the HRW believes that it too, was linked to the factories.

The report found that workers were doing compulsory overtime and pregnant women were suffering from unfair dismissal, and unfair working conditions. Intimidation tactics were being used and a denial of basic human rights was found around the industrial part of the country.

Children were also being forced to work additional hours and their hours were not contracted, leaving employees with few working rights. Women interviewed by HRW said that working at the factories involved physical and verbal sexual harassment.

“H&M, Gap, and Adidas were the only brands Human Rights Watch contacted that acknowledged the concerns raised” HRW said.

Gap has responded to the report saying, “We are investigating the alleged labour practices highlighted in this report.” H&M has also said that it will look into the matter.

The report has complications for all the retailers involved in particular Swedish fashion retailer H&M, which prides itself on its sustainability range. A statement on the retailer’s website reads:

“Being ethical also means protecting human rights and providing an inclusive business environment. And not only to take responsibility for our colleagues, but also to serve as a good example wherever we operate”. If the allegations are true, the company’s customer loyalty and brand image could be dented.

Though the news had little effect for Marks and Spencer on the stock exchange yesterday, with figures up following a minor dip, the retailer will need to ensure that it follows up on the allegations. The company had difficulties in the final quarter of 2014, with general merchandise sales down 5.4% after difficulties in its Castle Donington distribution centre in December. The clothing sector was also impacted by unseasonal conditions, leading the company to title its results, ‘Very good Christmas in Food, difficult quarter in GM’.

Marks and Spencer told Retail Gazette that it would follow the 140 page report up if HRW sent over the evidence that the company is involved. A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said:

“We have not been presented with any evidence to support these claims. If Human Rights Watch comes to us with any evidence we will, of course, investigate. All our suppliers must adhere to our strict ethical standards as a condition of working with us. These include providing good working conditions, freedom of association, treating workers with respect, limits on overtime and paying fair rates of pay. All our supplier factories are audited regularly by third party, independent auditors and are visited by M&S compliance managers.”

Trust is fundamental to any brand’s success and though these retailers may not have a direct link to the factories, the report emphasises the importance of companies having a strong chain of command.

Published on Friday 13 March by Rachel Gee

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