It took years for the British phone hacking scandal to be taken seriously. How long will it take for British Government and industry to take abuses in the fashion industry seriously? Is it time fashion had its own Leveson enquiry?
In September 2010 the New York Times published an article stating that a dozen reporters had described life at the News of the World as frantic and degrading, and claimed phone hacking was common and widespread. Of course these claims were brushed off as "unsubstantiated" and simply the bitterness of former reporters who had personal grievances against the company. 18 months on we of course see the situation very differently.
Last week Anti Slavery International and SOMO released a report that claimed a factory producing clothing for M&S, Tescos and Mothercare were operating near slave like conditions. Along with low wages and squalid conditions, workers were prevented from seeing their families, or even leaving the factory premises. Barbed wire lined the walls around the building where they worked.
The companies involved issued statements saying that their auditors had been in and reported the conditions satisfactory, workers were given 30 days holiday a year, and gate receipts proved the girls could go in and out as they pleased. However workers interviewed by the BBC said the factory owners had known the auditors were coming so pressured them in to saying things that weren't true. One girl claimed she was told to hide when they came round as she was underage.
Unlike the News of World, the companies involved in this scandal didn't try to claim that the 200 workers interviewed by Anti Slavery International and SOMO were lying or aggrieved employees. In fact they didn't try and explain it at all.
There also seemed to be little suggestion about what could be done to remedy the discrepancy; to seek out the truth. Anti-Slavery International claims the report reveals that auditing processes are ineffective, and that consumers shouldn't trust claims that supply chains are free from human rights abuses. They argue that much more needs to be spent on auditing (they're asking for 0.7% of their pre-tax profits allocated to auditing). Little seems to be said on either side about introducing undercover auditing.
Despite the extensive report by the BBC, few other media outlets picked up the story. Indeed, the Guardian, who had been at the centre of rooting out the evil in the phone hacking scandal, didn't cover it at all. They did however report on M&S becoming carbon neutral. You've got to admire the bravado of a company that only a week earlier were accused of slavery, slapping itself on the back because they got Joanna Lumley to encourage some people to give their old clothes to Oxfam.
People were aware of phone hacking for years before there was an enquiry. It was when we found out that the phone of murdered school girl, Milly Dowler, had been hacked that outrage grew so strong it became impossible to ignore. What will it take to get the British public so outraged about the abuses in the fashion industry that we get a proper enquiry in to what is really going on in these factories?
Read the full story about slavery on the High Street scandal at mswandas.co.uk