By Mick Duncan
Littlewoods, a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), was bought for £750m in November by the Barclay Brothers. Three months later, it has just announced its resignation from the ETI.
The ETI was set up by campaigning groups, retailers, suppliers and trade unions in 1998 following a series of campaigns in the UK for the improvement of working conditions in companies' overseas supply chains. The ETI suffers from a lack of rigour in enforcing standards and a cross-class orientation which seeks to separate "good" employers from "bad", lining the unions and radical NGOs up with anti-union chains such as The Body Shop. Nevertheless Littlewoods' withdrawal signals a step backwards.
Littlewoods' new owners are closing the company's "ethical trade department" and many of the staff whose responsibility it was to enforce ethical standards have been made redundant.
The Barclay Brothers claim that Littlewoods does not intend to drop its ethical standards but that checking these will now be the responsibility of "department directors and buying teams". Peter Booth of TGWU comments that, "even with the best ethical policy in the world, when you don't monitor your suppliers you are effectively saying: 'anything goes'."