Marks & Spencer denies child labour allegations

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer was embroiled in a potentially damaging controversy last night over the alleged use by its suppliers of child labour and the incorrect labelling of some of its garments.

Marks & Spencer, which prides itself on buying British, has withdrawn a range of women's pyjamas which had been labelled as "Made in the UK" when they had been made in Morocco.

The decision comes as the company braces itself for a two-part World In Action documentary entitled "Saint Michael - has the halo slipped?" to be be screened by Granada Television on Monday. The programme is expected to make allegations that some M&S suppliers are exploiting child labour in Third World countries and incorrectly labelling the garments as made in the UK.

Yesterday Marks & Spencer said it had never knowingly sourced garments made using child labour and denied that other incorrectly labelled clothing could be available in M&S stores.

On the incorrect labelling M&S said: "We believe this was a one-off mistake."

It said it would not be paying for the pyjamas, which had been supplied by Desmond & Sons, of Northern Ireland. The company has "categorically denied" allegations that its Moroccan sub-contractor was using child labour.

Desmond is one of Northern Ireland's oldest clothing manufacturers and enjoys close links with M&S.

The World in Action programme is expected to make a series of allegations against M&S suppliers. The company ran into trouble last summer when it was accused of copying the design of a swimsuit.

Any further allegations on incorrect labelling would be damaging for a company that says it buys 78 per cent of its products from UK suppliers. M&S has built its reputation on the strength of its brand and a trustworthy, honest image.