Thumbs up? M&S, Ethical Consumer & unanswered questions

This is not the 'Thumbs up' that EC gave M&S (used with CC license)

This is not the ‘Thumbs up’ that EC gave M&S (used with CC license)

‘Credit where credit’s due’ and/or ‘best of a bad job’?

In the wake of Fashion Revolution Day, it’s interesting to see that Ethical Consumer is endorsing Marks & Spencer’s clothing. Here’s the explanation…

Eagle-eyed readers will have seen that the latest M&S clothing ads carry an endorsement from Ethical Consumer tucked away in the small print. So what exactly is M&S doing that makes it so ethical and why have we taken the decision to endorse the clothing made by one of the UK’s biggest retailers? Well, to begin with, due to the sheer number of clothing companies out there, in our current report on ethical fashion we separated the specialist ethical clothing brands from the mainstream high street names. The reality is that had they all been on the same table, M&S would be firmly in the middle of the table. As it is they came top of all the high street clothing brands but would have been a poor performing company on an Alternative Clothing table.

However, this isn’t to do M&S down. They come out best of the high street clothing brands for a reason: they’re making more genuine efforts to improve their supply chain than almost all the other brands on the high street. Three of the biggest issues currently facing the clothing industry are garment workers’ rights, water pollution from clothes processing factories which has been highlighted by Greenpeace and the use of slave labour in the Uzbek cotton harvest, an issue being tackled by the Cotton Campaign group. The good news is that M&S is actively addressing all these issues. M&S was the second-highest scorer on our Sourcing Network ratings of action being taken to remove Uzbek cotton from the supply chain.  It’s also named by Greenpeace as one of the companies doing most to phase out the use of toxic chemicals in the production of its clothing.

M&S also receives a best rating in our Supply Chain Management category which examines not just a company’s code of conduct, but also the input it receives form labour rights groups, its auditing practices, transparency and the efforts it makes to tackle tricky labour issues in its supply chain. While M&S has plenty more work to do, credit where credit’s due. For the big unwieldy beast that it is, M&S is making more effort than most to clean up its act.  Rewarding such efforts by choosing M&S clothes over other high street brands has its place in pushing standards upwards (more so if you write, email or Tweet the other companies to let them know). …

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However, the way that M&S responded to tweeted questions about who made their clothes on Fashion Revolution Day has been questioned by tweeters.

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… there I am sitting at my computer seeing M&S crowing about their “strict ethical standards”, and remembering that they told me their supply chain is impossible to monitor… so, I piped up with my two bob’s worth: you told me via email that your supply chain was so complex it is “impossible to monitor” At that point M&S chose to follow H&M and Topshop’s strategy. They went silent. Stella Creasy asked: is that true m&s? Their answer? Yep, more silence. And that, my friends is why we need clothing labels which clearly indicate whether workers all along the fashion supply chain are paid living wages and work in safe conditions: If fashion retailers were required to label their clothing in this way they couldn’t just go silent and not tell us how they make our clothes. …

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How can this conversation continue? Who makes our clothes? Who…?  

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One thought on “Thumbs up? M&S, Ethical Consumer & unanswered questions

  1. Thanks for sharing this conversation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s outrageous that retailers are anything less than transparent about their supply chain. Complexity is not an excuse for irresponsibility!
    Today we hear calls from The Sun (amongst others) for labelling of meat so we know whether we’re buying Halal… why aren’t we hearing the same call for clothing so we know whether or not we are buying sweatshop!?!?!?!?!
    To petition the EU for clothing labels which reflect work condition, please sign and share this: http://tinyurl.com/k2wkxvp

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