John Hilary: Sweatshop workers pay the price for our bargains

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The downward trend for clothes expenditure over the past decade is not because we are buying less. Far from it – the Noughties saw a vast surge in consumption levels of clothing and footwear. It is because the items themselves are so much cheaper now than they were10 years ago.

Relocation of clothes production to countries such as China, Bangladesh and India has enabled high street retailers to force down the prices they pay their suppliers. Companies such as Primark, Asda, Tesco and Matalan have conquered the UK market by selling huge volumes of clothes and shoes to consumers at around half the average high street price.

The result is that the clothing and footwear sector has experienced price deflation in every one of the past 10 years. This pressure on prices is then passed along the supply chain, so that people producing our clothes in the sweatshops of Asia are denied a chance to work their way out of poverty.

This week's government announcement that an ombudsman will be appointed to oversee supermarkets' treatment of food suppliers is a step in the right direction. We now need similar regulation of clothes retailers and their relations with suppliers in developing countries. Otherwise our fashion bargains will continue to fuel exploitation.

John Hilary is executive director of War on Want

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