Factcheck: Sainsbury’s on Newsnight

Sainsbury‘s Head of Sustainability appeared on Newsnight last night, discussing an interesting piece on ethical fashion. Unfortunately she was either misinformed or, more likely given her senior position, deliberately misleading viewers.  Here’s the particular exchange that raised my eyebrows:

Kirsty Wark: In Bangladesh you pay in Tk1841 – £14 per month – but the Bangladesh Institute of Labour studies says that to sustain a family you need Tk4800.  If you paid people better, they would win, and you would win.

Alison Austin: Well I think you have to be very careful what companies and what clothing you’re looking at, and I think Joan’s quite right that customers need to be aware of the issues and ask questions.

KW: But you’re still paying very low wages!

AA: But that’s why we’re making such investment in the Fairtrade clothing market, because there we really can clearly communicate to customers that for the clothing they buy with the Fairtrade Mark, a fair wage has been paid.  But all the other factories that we source from meet the stretching standards of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and we’ve been working with them for a long period of time.

What’s so wrong with that? Well, two things.

First, in response to a question about wages in the manufacture of clothing in Bangladesh, she refers to “Fairtrade clothing.” Ms Austin should be well aware that the Fairtrade mark covers only cotton production (pdf link), not the manufacture of clothing.  In terms of manufacturing, there is no guarantee to consumers that, “for the clothing they buy with the Fairtrade Mark, a fair wage has been paid.”  Bangladesh doesn’t even have a cotton industry, so that can’t be the confusion: it’s hard not to suspect that Ms Austin is playing fast and loose with the facts here.

But then it gets worse!  She continues by saying that, “all the other factories that we source from meet the stretching standards of the Ethical Trading Initiative [ETI].” This suggests that the ETI is some kind of certification body.  The ETI base code does set out some ‘stretching’ standards – though stretching is not the right word, given that they are based on fundamental human rights – but there is no guarantee that companies in the ETI meet those standards.  Indeed, the whole premise of the ETI is that companies work together towards implementing these standards progressively: few companies would claim anything else.  So this is a disingenuous statement to say the least!

We’re very disappointed with Sainsbury’s which, once again, seems to be putting out a public line that everything’s OK, when anyone who knows anything about ethical trading knows that it isn’t.

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7 Responses to “Factcheck: Sainsbury’s on Newsnight”

  1. Jonny Says:

    Thanks for posting this. My wife came home with two polo shirts for out 4 yr old for £1.25 reduced from original price of £2.50. 62p for a shirt?

    When I FEEL I would rather pay £1.99 in a charity shop for a similar, used item, there’s something definitely not right…….

    I’ll be sharing your site with friends.

  2. kellie barrett-seward Says:

    This is a living nightmare I can not believe that its impossible to buy my children a school uniform and be certain its not made by a slave or a child the same age as them. It seems that they will be in rags this term.

    Someone help, ethical school uniforms must be out there somewhere? I thought M&S was a safe bet, but it turns out I was mistaken! John Lewis must be ok, right?

    ps people who buy The Northface=Sweatshop. Now theres really no need perhaps they should use images children being removed from their families and shipped hundreds of miles away to work for nothing. These sorts of profits are disgusting.

  3. Emma Jeffery Says:

    Hi,

    I saw this comment on ethical school uniforms and just wanted to let you know that there is an ethical company that sells fairly reasonably priced uniforms- they’re called Clean Slate and have a good website- cleanslateclothing.com

    Best
    Emma

  4. Heartburn Home Remedy Says:

    Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is a lot more than I expected when I found a link on Digg telling that the info here is quite decent. Thanks.

  5. Jono Says:

    “But that’s why we’re making such investment in the Fairtrade clothing market, because there we really can clearly communicate to…”

    What is she saying, precisely?

    We have already made the investment or we are making the investment at this moment or we will make the investment or we have said we intend to make the investment?

    It is implying that the investment is already in place but from the actual figures it is clear that this is not the case. What a slimey corporate nothing statement. I expect more from Sainsburys.

  6. Watch Year One Says:

    I read your blog for a long time and must tell you that your articles are always valuable to readers.
    p.s. Year One is already on the Internet and you can watch it for free.

  7. Answers to “Are any fashion retailers ethical?” | Diamonds and Daisychains Says:

    […] in 2008, Sainsbury’s Head of Sustainability was accused of deliberately misleading viewers of Newsnight by Martin Hearson of Let’s Clean Up Fashion. Hearson wrote, “We’re very disappointed […]


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