Child labour & underpayment in Monsoon’s supply chain (Guardian)

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 The internal report lists 75% of Monsoon’s suppliers as “middle risk” companies “providing Monsoon with incomplete or out-of-date information, committing major breaches of the code of ‘showing a preponderance of non-compliance”.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?


7 Comments on “Child labour & underpayment in Monsoon’s supply chain (Guardian)”

  1. Patric Ganz says:

    Incredible! 6 % ? They must have loads of suppliers to not even guarantee half of its production to be compliant with common ethical standards.
    It seems to me that Monsoon has not adjusted its supply-policy, even though its known today that true commitment to improve social standards has to imply supply-policy changes.

    • I do not know in how far Monsoon has adapted its purchasing policies. But it does not seem too bad, if 6% of the factories are totally compliant with the CoC (which requires living wages). I remember having read figures in a report by the German BMZ that around 90% of garment producers are more or less non-compliant (But do not quote me on that, as I do not find the source). Basically, everyone argues that compliance is a developmental process and that most factories have to work quite a bit on improving the working standards. What is missing, in my opinion, is some benchmark that makes transparent in detail how single companies (and their suppliers) are or are not improving regarding the codes. Having such detailed facts could help in the overall discussion.

      • Patric Ganz says:

        Still, without knowing Monsoon in detail (and this is very important to know the specific problems a company struggles/ may struggle with), I think its progress is way to slow! Monsoon has joined the ETI in 1999. 11 years ago! And they could not manage to pay MINIMUM WAGES? We are not talking about living wages! A study of YU in 2008 showed that even Reebok managed to pay MINIMUM WAGES.

        YU, Xiaomin (2008): Impacts of Corporate Code of Conduct on Labor Standards: A Case Study of Reebok’s Athletic Footwear Supplier Factory in China. In: Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 81, No. 3, pp. 513-529.

  2. Lucy says:

    I have worked on ethical trade issues for a number of retailers and am very familiar with the ETI reporting format. The problem is that the format can be misleading. For example, if an audit reveals that a factory does not have sufficiently rigorous documentation systems for paying wages , this is logged as a ‘breach’ under the ‘minimum wages’ category. This does not necessarily mean that minimum wages have not been paid but is an alert to probe further. That is why most retailers (infact all) refuse to publish their ETI reports – for fear of their findings being mis-interpretted. Monsoon has learnt this the hard way!

    • Many thanks for your clarification on this issue, Lucy. I would find it interesting, if a company would regularly publish a wage ladder for each of their suppliers. This tool allows the companies to show within which wage range they are working and to prove that they move up, instead of just being either compliant or non-compliant. In the best case, suppliers could set up the wage ladders by themselves – in cooperation with local worker representatives. I am aware that many companies are little interested in publishing this kind of information, but I think that this could act as a toprunner model – and it also lowers the problems of being mis-interpreted.

  3. Patric Ganz says:

    Just one more comment! About where VALUE is created and where not or less. I dont say that this insider (in the article) speaks the very truth, but some indicators one must consider:
    Insider: “he said the firm’s management had made matters worse by demanding suppliers cut their prices to help the company through a rocky financial patch two years ago.” “All the management wanted was to cut down the prices. It is highly unfair to ask the suppliers to pay better wages if Monsoon Accessorize is itself not wanting to pay fair prices for a product,” he said.

    And here some facts that might support the insiders thesis:

    It has hired a series of star models – including Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Heidi Klum, Sophie Dahl, Mischa Barton and Lily Cole – to promote its wares. In 2007 it was reported to have paid Liz Hurley £1m to model its clothes. (the article)

    And:

    Monsoon Accessorize’s prestigious Head Office is located in Notting Hill Village, West London. It is an exciting new development designed by award winning Architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. In addition to the much awaited opening of Westfield Shopping Centre, located adjacent to our new Head Office, Notting Hill Village has many local facilities at nearby Shepherds Bush and Holland Park. (homepage of monsoon)

    No matter, in general, I appreciate the efforts the company made and hopefully makes in the future.

  4. Dan Welch says:

    Our fashion correspondent at Ethical Consumer posted a blog about the Monsoon scandal on our website, under the by-line:

    Recent attacks on Monsoon for discovering child labour miss the point, says Ethical Consumer

    After the recent exposé on Dispatches revealing clothes being made for the UK high street in Leicester sweatshops, the media is hungry for blood.

    Sure enough, just a fortnight later, they found their second victim, Monsoon. This target was all the more satisfying for the fact that this is a company that makes a meal out of its ethical credentials.

    Monsoon was attacked by the media, who gleefully reminded us of the irony that the company sponsors Estethica, the ethical section of London Fashion Week.

    Stories flooded the news of “embarrassing revelations” about under-age children and underpaid women making Monsoon’s clothes in India. The fact that these ‘revelations’ were actually reported by the company itself, as a result of the findings of its own audit processes, was presented as a byline to the story.

    As has been pointed out by the press, Ethical Consumer named Monsoon as the most ethical clothes shop on the high street in our 2008 buyers’ guide to Clothes Shops. Now that isn’t necessarily saying much, as unfortunately all high street clothes companies have an extremely long way to go before they could be considered ‘ethical.’ Indeed, Monsoon is far from perfect, but it at least demonstrates some progress towards environmental and social sustainability, making it the best of a bad bunch.

    We can’t claim to be shocked that these sorts of workers’ rights abuses are occurring in the clothing supply chain. Appalling as they are, the issue is not whether or not such problems exist, but how they are remedied and prevented in future.

    At Ethical Consumer, we see Monsoon’s revelations, although awful, as proof that its auditing process is working. We encourage self-disclosure by companies, by not scoring them down for doing so. Monsoon’s Ethiscore rating remains the same as before this incident.

    Monsoon has admitted to the world that it is struggling to tackle the problem of child labour in it’s supply chain, and it’s only through admitting fault that a company can begin working towards a solution. By slamming companies for admitting their problems, we may only encourage them to brush things under the carpet in future.

    Hopefully this self-disclosure will attract help from campaigners, and will publicly hold the company to account for improving working conditions throughout its supply chain.


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