Child labour & underpayment in Monsoon’s supply chain (Guardian)Posted: November 23, 2010
On Sunday, Gethin Chamberlain reported in The Observer / Guardian.co.uk that internal audits by the British ethical fashion pioneer Monsoon revealed the use of child labour and underpaid workers in their supply chains. Perhaps most striking was that child labour was found in various supply factories / subcontractors in India and that 64 suppliers do not pay minimum wages. Overall, Monsoon revealed that only 6% of its suppliers fully complied with the voluntary ETI code. Please read the article for more details.
Why is this noteworthy? As Samantha Maher argues, these findings should not really surprise us, but rather be expected in almost every clothing supply chain of big retailers. Simply because we might have thought this was different for Monsoon: The company is seen as a leading star regarding CSR among the British fashion retailers. The Ethical Consumer Magazine ranked it as the most ethical on the UK high street, and the company is seen as “a leading light” in the ETI.
Monsoon reacted to the article by arguing that it has a “long-lasting and passionate commitment to ethical trade” and that it has been trying hard to improve the situation deep in their supply chains:
According to the article, Monsoon also argues: “We accept that a number of homeworkers in India are not being paid minimum wages, yet significant improvements have been made.” … “We have never claimed to be perfect, but ethical values have been at the heart of the business since 1973”. The internal report lists 75% of Monsoon’s suppliers as “middle risk” companies “providing Monsoon with incomplete or out-of-date information, committing major breaches of the code of ‘showing a preponderance of non-compliance”. Monsoon also says that workers earning a minimum wage at least now do better than when the company started working with them.
What does this tell us?
1. The human / working rights situation in clothing supply chains is overall still very bad, if even CSR top-runners have vast problems with human and working rights violations in their supply chains (6% compliant suppliers seems quite disappointing).
2. Monsoon, like most clothing companies, states that it has made a huge progress regarding working rights – and that ethics ranks high in the company and that it is commited to ethics. In my own research I have found only few companies, who do not claim this – so how can consumers distinguish between better and worse companies regarding CSR? Considering that only 6% of the suppliers are said to be fully compliant, Monsoon either did a pretty bad job in fulfilling their values, or this figure might also simply show the limits of voluntary responsibility (If Monsoon had the same difficulties in getting the quality of their clothes right, they would have been out of the market since 1974 …). In order to better evaluate CSR, we would need standardized measures publicly and independently benchmarking companies regarding the progress they make regarding CR.
3. Monsoon claims to be more progresssive than other companies regarding CSR, as it seems to talk about their audit reports, even if these make bad PR – while most companies refrain from doing this. But can anyone tell me where on the company or on the ETI website I find this latest audit reports?