Unsuitable working conditions are a reality for millions of people the world over in the fashion industry. It’s easy to imagine these problems only existing in far flung corners, but in November 2010, one of New Look’s suppliers was discovered by Channel Four’s Dispatches programme Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret to have paid some of its workers as little as £2.50 per hour right here in the UK.
The high-street chain immediately launched an internal investigation, as well as an independent review through Ernst & Young. New Look was satisfied that their supplier had no idea that a subcontractor was in turn subcontracting work out, breaching ethical code, and connections with that company ceased.
In any case, as a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a group of companies that work to improve conditions for workers, and the recipient of Ethical Accreditation, it seems strange that something like this could happen in the first place. 97.5% of New Look’s suppliers are listed on Sedex, the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange, which allows companies to share ethical information on all their suppliers.
Beyond the UK, there are still intrinsic problems with New Look and many other fashion retailers. Labour Behind the Label reports that although New Look is improving, they still do not pay their foreign workers a living wage, which is ‘a wage that allows a worker to provide for him or herself and family; to buy essential medicines, send children to school and to save for the future‘. No ETI high-street brands currently do this perfectly and New Look is ranked as the best along with Gap, Monsoon/Accessorize and Next.
The rise and rise of budget brands like Primark, George and Tu at Tesco could make you question the extent to which consumers care where their clothes come from. If the price is right, it seems, many will be wooed by a siren call of dubious origin. New Look are amongst those who at least are leading the way in the right direction.