Retailers continue to be mired in controversy over working conditions at garment factories

Retailers continue to be mired in controversy over working conditions at garment factories

A latest newspaper exposé about working conditions at two Indian garment factories raises questions about how deep corporate transparency should run.

Strangely, all three of the retailers 'exposed' - Next, Gap and Marks and Spencer (M&S) - tell just-style they were aware of the issues prior to being contacted by The Obsever newspaper.

In response to the article, Next and Gap say they were already in the process of putting things right at the House of Pearl factory, while M&S says it has been "working very closely" with its Viva Global supplier since April.

And yet, thousands of Brits awoke to headlines such as 'new sweatshop scandal' and 'fast fashion is pushing workers into starvation conditions' as they tucked into their Full English on Sunday morning. Readers were told about excessive overtime and unpaid overtime wage payments at Pearl, and similar overtime issues at Viva.

All three brands were quick to fight their corners, with Next describing the situation as "deplorable" and Pearl being warned to improve conditions or lose orders. The retailers also made it clear they had taken swift action, but unfortunately for them the emotive pictures were more memorable than anything.

So how could these high street stalwarts have swerved the bullet? Well, just like the issue of cheap labour itself, there is no simple solution.

While they could have communicated their own findings about Pearl and Viva before The Observer investigation, similar headlines are likely to have resulted - perhaps circulating even wider.

However, making regular supply chain updates, good or bad, might be the only way to soften the blow, and encourage media to see the wider picture. For example, M&S uses 92 textile factories in India, but like it or not will be noted for problems at just one this week.

It would take a higher level of transparency across the board to acheive this, and convince increasingly ethical shoppers that retailers have little to hide when it comes to sourcing.

Retailers would undoubtedly be taking a gamble, but to use a betting phrase some things just sound better straight from the horse's mouth.