The headline in the Toronto Star, Loblaw to pay compensation to victims of Bangladesh factory collapse, confirmed the news that I’d read earlier on twitter.
While Loblaw, the owner of the successful disposable fashion brand Joe Fresh, should be commended for its decision, it comes on the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy that killed 1,129 garment-factory workers.
Loblaw is following the global leadership of Associated British Foods (ABF), the owner of Primark, one of the most popular fast fashion labels in the U.K., in its offer of compensation.
In her report Tanya Talaga comments:
Since the April 24, 2013, disaster, Primark has been on the ground in Bangladesh, trying to provide some relief to garment workers. Primark developed one of the most comprehensive lists of Rana victims and offered everyone working in the building short-term compensation.
On Thursday, Primark announced it was taking further steps to offer longer-term payouts. The fashion house will compensate those who worked for New Wave Bottoms, the supplier working for Primark in the Rana Plaza.
In a statement, Primark said the compensation scheme was devised by external experts and would look at medical and vulnerability assessments. Those assessments are to be carried out by Dhaka University’s department of vulnerability studies and disaster management, university medical faculty, doctors and the firm’s union partners…
Primark’s moves in Bangladesh are being praised by labour rights advocates, who say it is well past the time for all brands to step forward and compensate.
The global leadership shown by Associated British Foods and Primark on this matter is not surprising. Primark’s actions, the result of values deeply embedded in its culture and business practices, demonstrate that its brand is in tune with the ethical concerns and beliefs of consumers today.
Even a cursory glance at the Primark Ethical Trading page on its website makes manifest why Primark would act in the manner in which it did.
Primark is a subsidiary company within Associated British Foods (ABF), and as part of the ABF family we share its core values: taking care of our people, being good neighbours, and fostering ethical business relationships.
We also share the group’s overriding principles in relation to human rights, employment conditions, business practices and engagement with suppliers and stakeholders.
As an international business with a global supply chain and a growing retail base, we believe that business has a responsibility to act and trade ethically, and that by doing so, it can be a force for good.
Our business directly contributes to the employment of more than 700,000 workers across three continents and ensuring that their rights are respected is key to our continued growth.
Like most high street retailers, Primark sources the majority of its products from countries overseas such as India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Turkey. We have approximately 700 first-tier suppliers who produce goods to our specification and design.
We do not own the companies or factories that produce our goods, but we do have a responsibility to the workers in those factories, to our customers and shareholders, to ensure that our products are made in good working conditions.
Global leaders assert their positions publicly and unambiguously
Contrast Primark’s clear and transparent position with what Joseph Mimran, creator and Creative Director of Joe Fresh, said in a recent interview.
In his review of the Joe Fresh line at the, World Mastercard Toronto Fashion Week, a day earlier, Tony Wong reports on his interview with Mimran:
“Our view is that we are there to support the country, we’re there to help to do what we need to do to be good world citizens. That’s really our aim at the end of the day,” Mimran said backstage, talking about the subject in a rare interview with the Star.
Mimran said his company remains committed to staying in Bangladesh, even as other companies such as Disney have pulled out, because it can be a “force for good.”
Still, he said he didn’t have immediate plans to visit his factories himself.
“We have such a big team of people; that’s what they do.”
He made clear that with expectations at Fashion Week high, the imminent launch of his new collection was uppermost in his mind, not Rana Plaza.
“When you’re in this creative mode, you’re in this creative mode. That’s sort of business production and you can’t focus on that, you’ve got to focus on the creative,” he said. “You can become overwhelmed with thoughts of that. You don’t want that creeping into your thinking.”
It’s not surprising that Joe Mimran’s comments do not demonstrate a comparable level of global leadership and commitment on the part of the brand or its owner regarding the ethical sourcing of its products. No statement about the ethical sourcing of products exists on the Joe Fresh Website. It certainly casts a doubt as to whether the ethical sourcing of products is an authentic part of the DNA of the Joe Fresh brand.
The lack of a clearly stated public position combined with the six months it took to offer compensation to the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy indicates that Loblaw and Joe Fresh need to do much more to earn a reputation as a brand in tune with the ethical concerns and beliefs of its consumers.
What steps should Joe Fresh take on its journey to becoming a global leader?
The World MasterCard Toronto Fashion Week showing of the Joe Fresh line was a missed opportunity for Joseph Mimran and the Joe Fresh brand. It offered the perfect stage for Mr. Mimran to announce the company’s decision to compensate the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy. It presented the perfect opportunity to make manifest the brand’s position as a global fashion industry leader regarding the ethical sourcing of its products.
Why Mr. Mimran and the Loblaw Corporate Public Relations team missed this opportunity is not clear. It was an obvious chance for the brand to assert its global leadership on this important issue.
It is time for Mr. Mimran to play an active and public role in raising the profile of the ethical sourcing of products within the fashion community. As the acclaimed creative force behind the brand, his voice on this issue would demonstrate to the global fashion industry and its customers that Joe Fresh has arrived as a leader on the world stage.
This commitment must become a part of the brand’s DNA. It must be ingrained as a core belief of the brand and the organization that stands behind it. Only then will it inform and influence the business practices and culture of the Joe Fresh organization and ensure its customers know where the brand stands.
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