Image: Beyoncé in her ‘Where is your Park’ video
[April Wilson | TV Director]
Beyoncé’s highly anticipated ‘Ivy Park’ clothing range that was created in collaboration with Topshop’s parent company Arcadia (CEO, Sir Philip Green) has been in the news recently. It has been reported that the range is the product of sweatshop labour, with workers paid as little as £4.30 a day. Is this information really a surprise to the British public?
Beyoncé’s Ivy Park range has mainly come under fire due to its connection with the MAS Holdings Group. Despite the seemingly low pay of the employees, MAS is actually not breaking any rules and pays even its poorest workers more than the legal requirement of 13,500 rupees a month. However, many campaigners have argued that the living wage is closer to 43,000 rupees.
It should also be considered how much the workers are being paid in comparison to how much the Ivy Park range retails for. The lowest price item in the range is the Ivy Park Logo Trainer Socks that costs £4.00 – almost a day’s worth of pay, according to what the workers reportedly earn. The highest price item in the range is the Full Length Colour Block Body, which costs £160. If the workers do receive as little as £4.30 a day, even if they worked for a month (30 days) they still would not be able to afford to buy the most expensive item in the Ivy Park collection.
Beyoncé has spoken about how she wants her range to support and empower women, and hints of this can be seen in the ‘Where is Your Park’ video. In the video, Beyoncé suggests that her inspiration behind the collection is the ‘park’ she has in her mind. It is her special place where she went to give birth and tackle the major obstacles she has had in her life.
“I know that when I feel physically strong, I am mentally strong and I wanted to create a brand that made other women feel the same way.” –Beyoncé on Ivy Park.
However, despite Beyoncé’s cry for the empowerment of women, something which I think she helps a lot of women achieve, her Ivy Park line, unfortunately, does not enable this for some women. One machinist told The Sun on Sunday: “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners. They want the foreigners to think everything is OK.”
Jakub Sobik, from the charity Anti-Slavery International, has said:
“[Ivy Park] is a form of sweatshop slavery…companies like Topshop have a duty to find out if these things are happening, and it has long been shown that ethical inspections by these companies are failing. They should be replaced by independent inspections.”
Topshop, part of the Arcadia group, claims that its mission statement is to “produce fashionable products in an ethical way” according to information on their website. The group stresses: “When customers buy our goods, we want them to be confident that they have been produced under acceptable conditions”.
In response to these sweatshop claims, the Arcadia group told Vogue:
“Ivy Park has a rigorous ethical trading programme. We are proud of our sustained efforts in terms of factory inspections and audits, and our teams worldwide work very closely with our suppliers and their factories to ensure compliance. We expect our suppliers to meet our code of conduct and we support them in achieving these requirements.”
However, does the Ivy Park range deserve so much criticism? How does it compare with other shops on the High Street?
Primark has become notorious for allegedly not sticking to ethical trading standards. Numerous incidents may come to mind, one of the most the famous incidents is the ‘Cry for Help’ that was stitched into the label of one of their £10 dresses in 2014. The ‘Cry for Help’ phrase on the label read “forced to work exhausting hours”, highlighting the desperate conditions sweatshop workers find themselves in.
Primark stress on its website how they are trying to work towards better working conditions for their workers:
“Since 2011 we have partnered with… HERhealth (Health Enables Returns) initiative. HERhealth provides – health education and access to healthcare to women working in the factories that make Primark’s product.”
Despite all the accusations Primark has faced, it is not classified as the worst high street fashion store in terms of ethics according to thegoodshoppingguide.com. But it is not the most ethical either.
Emma Watson is famous for portraying Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series and for her work for gender equality, such as her work with the HeForShe campaign. However, before she was well known for her work for women’s rights, she was endorsing fair trade fashion and played an active role in seeing the difference it made. It was her collaboration with People Tree, a pioneer in fair trade and economically sustainable fashion that allowed her this opportunity as she created her fair trade clothing range. Watson said she wanted to learn more about the fair trade process and the difference it can make to people’s lives. She even helped select the fabrics, colours, and silhouettes; modelled the finished looks; and significantly even flew to Bangladesh to visit the slums homes of Dhaka.
“I visited Bangladesh to see the clothing actually being made and meet the people making it. It was an incredible and life-changing experience – I really wish everyone had the chance to see the difference fairtrade makes with their own eyes.” – Emma Watson
Emma Watson here shows a genuine desire to educate people on where their clothes come from, thinking about the people behind the process rather than just focus on glamourising the clothes themselves. In fact, at this year’s Met Gala her dress was actually made out of recycled bottles!
The worst ranked high street shops for ethical trading divert us from thinking about their appalling production conditions because of the cheap prices they offer. Let’s be honest, who has not found themselves shopping at Primark because it is cheap, so cheap that often it doesn’t matter if it’s poorly made because we can just buy a new one. In a world of disposable fashion, it does not matter if a garment will last because we would have moved onto something else by the next week.
Primark, although one of the lowest ranking shops on the list, is not the bottom of the list, that prize goes to the F&F range by Tesco. Supermarket clothing ranges have soared in popularity in recent years. Partially, because the consumer desires a more inclusive shopping experience where they can buy their clothes, food and DVDs all in the same place for affordable prices. Is it any surprise that these ranges have lowered their ethical standards in order to keep up with consumer demand?
The issue does just rest solely on ranges like Ivy Park, though we would hope that when celebrities chose to endorse a range they would take a leaf from Emma Watson’s book and look into where the clothes they are endorsing actually come from. However, the responsibility for ethical clothing does not rely just on the figurehead of a brand, but us, the consumer. If we want an Ivy Park range made with acceptable working conditions we have to be the ones to demand it.