Littlewoods, the high street clothing retailer, has decided to leave the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a voluntary code of conduct set up to help improve labour standards in poor countries. The company is also closing its ethical trade department and making many of its experts in labour standards redundant. A founder member of the ETI, Littlewoods told Christian Aid its decision to leave and said that ethical practice would now be 'mainstreamed' throughout its supply chain. The company said its ethical policy had not changed. "Littlewoods has taken a giant leap backwards in its efforts to become an ethical company," said Dr Sharon McClenaghan, Corporate Policy Officer at Christian Aid. 'It is difficult to imagine how the company will manage to remain committed to improving the lives of the people who make their clothing if they no longer have staff dedicated to ensuring good labour standards.' LW Investments, owned by media entrepreneurs the Barclay Brothers, bought Littlewoods in November 2002. Since the sale, the company has been split into several business units and the department set up to carry out and monitor its ethical policy has been disbanded. Many of the staff who were experts in enforcing ethical standards throughout Littlewoods' operation have been made redundant. "In one fell swoop, Littlewoods has gone from being one of the most ethically clean clothing retailers on the high street to a company that is clearly happy to risk its reputation for the sake of rationalisation,'" said Dr McClenaghan. 'Consumers in Britain who campaigned so hard for more ethical trading are likely to be extremely disappointed by Littlewoods' decision.' The Ethical Trading Initiative is a voluntary organisation set up by an number of campaigning groups, retailers, suppliers and trade unions aimed at improving labour standards in poor countries. It was established after a Christian Aid campaign in the 1990s which exposed the poor labour standards and employment practices behind many high street goods.
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