Purchasing policies under the spotlight

How well do our best-known retail brands stack up in terms of workers rights?
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The Independent Online
The Independent put the "Oxfam challenge" to some key retailers, asking where they bought their merchandise and what safeguards they had in place to guarantee workers' rights, health and conditions.

Gap buys worldwide.

It says all factories undergo strict screening to ensure the fair treatment of workers and they are then subject to regular unannounced checks. It employs two senior staff, working full time on human rights, and implements a strict buying code which guarantees rights and conditions.

"We expect workers to be treated with dignity and justice. Anything less than that is totally unacceptable," said Jim Lukaszewski, a spokesman for the company.

Sears - which owns Selfridges, Miss Selfridge, Richards, Wallis and Warehouse - buys from all over the world.

It says it ensures its suppliers comply with local laws and regulations guaranteeing working conditions and health and safety.

"Sears is committed to the goal that goods are sourced from suppliers which comply with local laws and maintain appropriate standards," said a spokeswoman.

Monsoon buys predominantly from the UK, Europe and the Far East.

The company says all suppliers are required to adhere to the company's code of conduct, guaranteeing workers' rights and conditions as well as quality.

In addition, the firm points out that its suppliers are regularly visited by UK and overseas staff.

"Monsoon is a responsible retailer which takes very seriously its role in developing good supplier practice," said a spokesman.

Next buys worldwide.

It says its code of conduct states the company will not deal with suppliers who knowingly compromise the safety of their workforce. They ensure factories are safe, that no child labour is used and production methods are guaranteed.

The Burton group buys worldwide - about one third from the UK.

It says it employs a strict code of conduct which covers workers' wages and entitlements, health and safety, and outlaws forced labour and child labour. Buyers and management visit factories regularly and it will not deal again with any supplier found to be in breach of the code.

"We take the issue of workers' rights and conditions very seriously. We are also part of the British Retail Consortium, which is actively promoting higher standards throughout the industry," said a spokeswoman.

Harrods buys worldwide.

It says that only a very small percentage of its clothing is manufactured specifically for Harrods and it looks to its manufacturers to ensure their business practices are "beyond reproach".

"Harrods would look very poorly upon suppliers who were found to be exploiting their workforces.

"We would welcome and support any initiative which reduce the suffering and hardship caused by unscrupulous employment practices," said a spokesman.

C & A buys from factories all over the world.

The company has spent the last two years setting up a new auditing company - independent of the rest of the group - whose purpose is to detect and prevent exploitation.

Those factories which refuse unannounced inspections or are found to be employing children, running sweat-shops or breaching basic civil and workers' rights, will lose their contracts as a result.

John Greene, head of corporate affairs, said: "We do not want to be part of the problem and we are taking strong action to ensure that we are not. That of course does not address the underlying complex issues - but we do not have a choice, we cannot be seen to be part of the problem."

Marks & Spencer buys 77 per cent of its products from manufacturers in the UK, 11.5 percent from Western Europe and 11.5 per cent from the developing world.

The company says that "every single factory" used by Marks & Spencer has been visited by a representative who checks on health and safety and working conditions.

Although individual salaries are not monitored, the company ensures pay at the factories "compares well" with local conditions. It is suing ITV's World in Action programme over claims made about child labour.

Andrew Stone, Joint managing director, said: "Our whole mission has been to ensure the best treatment of everybody connected with Marks & Spencer, from managers and shop staff to customers - and those who make our goods. It is a tradition of which we are proud and which goes back 112 years."

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