By Guy Montague-Jones, 22-Jun-2009
Boots has been accused of “turning its back on workers” after the health and beauty retailer pulled out of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).
The ETI aims to improve conditions and rights for workers and has built up a membership that includes 56 firms with a joint turnover of more than £100bn. NGOs and trade unions are also members and their job is to scrutinize company claims and ensure that they honour their ethical commitments.
Leaving after six years of membership
Alliance Boots, owned by private equity firm KKR, is now tearing up its commitment to the ETI after six years of membership.
Peter Williams, speaking on behalf of NGO members, said: “We would question why a major retailer like Boots is leaving ETI if it is committed to improving labour standards.
“We fear it is turning its back on workers in its supply chain.”
Boots denied these accusations. In a statement the UK-based retailer said: “Boots UK still firmly believes in the principles of the ETI regarding establishing good labour conditions.
“However we wish to move our agenda forwards and incorporate other aspects of sustainability. We believe very strongly that our business should concentrate on all aspects of sustainability in the supply chain, not just labour standards.”
Nevertheless, Williams said Boots needs more than ever to be a member of the ETI, keeping in mind that it has outsourced much of its production to China and other developing countries.
Scrutinizing claims and commitment
Making ethical claims is not enough, according to the coordinator for the NGO caucus. He said: “Any company can claim to be ethical. Membership of ETI means scrutiny of company claims, and their supply chains, by unions and NGOs.”
Williams also suggested that the decision to leave the ETI could have come from its private equity owners KKM. He said: “This is not the first time a retailer, which has been taken over by a private equity company, has left the ETI.”
Boots vehemently denies any link. “Our decision not to renew our ETI membership is not connected in any way to the ownership of the business.”