M&S switch to foreign suppliers threatens 16,000 UK textile jobs

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MARKS & SPENCER plans to cut the proportion of its clothes made in the UK to less than one-third. Unions claimed the move could mean the loss of 16,000 jobs to countries such as Morocco and Indonesia, where wages and other costs are low.

Executives from the troubled high street store will face protests from British clothing workers today as they unveil their interim results in London.

Yesterday's announcementfollows M&S's decision last month to cut its contract with William Baird, which employs more than 4,000 people in the UK. The GMB general union said real job losses could be as high as 8,000 because related industries would also be affected. It said a further 8,000 jobs could be lost if M&S cut its UK production to 30 per cent.

Des Farrell, the union's Clothing and Textile National Secretary, said sacrificing UK jobs was the wrong way to deal with falling profits. "Once M&S were a by-word for British quality. But it seems they are now prepared to dispense with the loyalty of both their staff and their customers in a desperate bid to drive down costs," he said. According to the GMB, 90 per cent of M&S clothes were made in the UK 20 years ago. By 1997 that had dropped to 70 per cent and the since then to 55 per cent. By next year the proportion would drop to 44 per cent and would continue its downward trend.

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said the store would still make more clothes in the UK than any other firm. "In order to stay in the high street we have to be competitive. To do that, we have to source more overseas, just as our rivals do. We haven't made any secret out of that," she said.

Last December the store's chief executive, Peter Salsbury, told the GMB it was wrong to suggest it was encouraging its suppliers to go offshore for cheaper goods. "Marks & Spencer is more supportive of UK production than any other clothing retailer, and will continue to be so," he wrote.