Leading fashion retailers presented their cases to MPs yesterday explaining how they plan to ensure human rights violations do not occur throughout their supply chains.
An evidence session called by a cross-party human rights committee saw senior figures from Marks & Spencer, ASOS, Next and Mulberry explain to MPs how and why damning accusations have been made against them.
Late last year a BBC Panorama documentary showed footage of a Turkish factory reportedly working for M&S and ASOS employing Syrian refugees, many of which were children.
The issue was thrown back into the spotlight this week, as another documentary on Channel 4 accused major textile firms working for River Island, New Look, Missguided and Boohoo of paying workers less than half of minimum wage.
ASOS chief executive Nick Beighton explained to MPs that “sometimes you have done all the right things, but the factories have different values”.
He referred to the fact that suppliers sometimes use unauthorised sub-contractors, and assured that whenever this was found to have happened, the contract with the supplier is terminated.
“You start off with very clear terms and conditions, and make it clear that if there’s any unauthorised subcontracting there are consequences,” Beighton said.
“If (there’s a breach and) it’s an aberration you say, come on guys let’s work together on this one. If it’s a cultural, systemic bending of the rules, we will suspend doing business with them.”
This was questioned by MP Harriet Harman, who argued that when suppliers have signed a contract a clear breach should mean immediate termination, providing a deterrent to committing further breaches.
Beighton responded by saying that Turkey was under stress due to an influx of Syrian refugees, adding that in such a situation “you go in and remind suppliers of their obligations.”
M&S sustainable business director Mike Barry supported Beighton’s argument.
“Often one of the worst things you can do is cut and run,” Barry said.
“It’s very tempting when there’s a problem and it’s in the press to say, our brand’s at risk, let’s just get away from it. But that supplier will go off and peddle their goods to someone else.
“Occasionally you come up against a supplier who refuses to put things right, at that point you give up and go. But I think you have an obligation as a responsible business to try and put things right.”