Fashion companies find it increasingly difficult to manage offshore production under the current climate of media scrutiny and corporate social responsibility (CSR), a panel of experts revealed yesterday (3 September).

Regulating factory conditions, paying associated costs and dealing with cultural differences, media scrutiny and environmental responsibilities were all identified as obstacles facing fashion firms abroad, during a roundtable fashion debate hosted by software provider Lawson Software.

Panellists encouraged importers to form tightly knit relationships with trusted overseas suppliers to avoid such problems. Split sourcing and employing a healthy mix of local and expatriat staff were also advised.

On the other hand, it was suggested that customers are now more willing to pay a premium for luxury goods produced locally, in a trend already rife in the food industry.

According to leading consultant Ruth Leak, fashion firms must prove they are "being clean to be clean, not just being seen to be clean", amid growing scrutiny from dedicated websites and press campaigns.

Leak, the director of Kurt Salmon Associates, a global management consulting firm to the retail and consumer product sectors, also identified consumer awareness of environmental issues as key for importers.

"The cultural impetus is real," she added. "It is a fashion issue at the moment. The question is whether it will stay around long enough to affect the way we are operating."

CSR in the fashion industry has come to a head this week, with UK newspaper The Guardian conducting an expose on Far East suppliers used by Mothercare, Gap Inc, H&M and M&S

The paper alleged that factory workers in India are being paid so little that some have to rely on government food parcels, together with other accusations of poor working conditions. Another report in July accused Primark, Asda and Tesco of breaching international labour standards in Bangladesh too. 

By Joe Ayling.