CNBC Meets

Philip Green: Stop attacking Topshop over Bangladesh accident

Philip Green: Stop attacking Topshop over Bangladesh accident

Philip Green, the CEO of the Arcadia Group which owns Topshop, has said that many commentators and critics used his business as a "battering ram" following the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year.

Rana Plaza, an eight-storey textile factory building in a Dhaka suburb, collapsed due to shoddy construction in April, killing 1,129 people and injuring over 2,000. It emerged that many retailers such as Matalan, Bonmarché and Primark used the services of workers at Rana Plaza, and the collapse highlighted the poor working conditions and unsafe construction methods used in order to satisfy demand for affordable goods in the West.

Following the disaster, many retailers such as Marks & Spencer, H&M and Next signed up to the Bangladesh Safety Accord to improve working conditions. Green decided not to do so at the time and was widely criticized. In September, the group did finally agree to the accord.

Responding to the last few months of criticism and scrutiny since the Rana Plaza accident, Green told CNBC Meets' Tania Bryer, "Everybody's trying to use Topshop as a battering ram just to prove a point. We haven't been a big user of Bangladesh."

Green said Topshop had only "done $20,000 or $25,000 worth of business in Bangladesh in a period of a year."

He continued, "But I think, of course you're upset and sad when you're seeing people in the same industry, you become part of it. And therefore people come to us, yes, we have to try and help where we can to make sure that the conditions that people are working in, the types of factories that we're making goods in, are at a certain standard."

Rana Plaza's collapse was not the first such disaster in Bangladesh. In 2005, 64 workers died at the collapse of the Spectrum sweater factory, which was used by Inditex, Zara's owner.

The eight-storey building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 25, 2013.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN | AFP | Getty Images

Arcadia was also not the only group to be hesitant about signing up the Bangladesh Accord, which was formulated by the United Nations International Labour Organisation and signed by over 100 clothing companies from 19 countries.

Nearly 20 North American retailers, including Wal-Mart and Gap, unveiled a separate five-year safety plan for Bangladesh garment factories. However, IndustriALL, a global workers union, said this plan did not go far enough and paled in comparison to the Bangladesh Accord.

Green said that while Arcadia had now joined the accord, he believed their current strict compliance process was legitimate and safe. "Well, we've been independent and I think we like running our own compliance," he said. "We've got an army of people on it. You can go on our website and see we've got a strict compliance process. All our suppliers have to sign up. We inspect hundreds of factories. In order for you to become a supplier to the company, you have to go through a rigorous process of who's in your factory, where are they, what are they making."

Green's last point highlighted how many companies choose not to use buildings such as Rana Plaza because they house multiple factories. A few months before Rana Plaza, Primark noted that it was difficult to check the overall safety of buildings with multiple factories within them.

Green added that large retailers had also brought a lot of good to third-world countries.

"I do think the clothing industry around the globe has brought a lot of production to a lot of third-world countries, hopefully most of it in the right way," he said. "But a lot of big companies have opened up a lot of third world countries. So I think it's a balance. They need work, and hopefully people aren't taking advantage of that."

The full program - CNBC Meets: Sir Philip Green - will air on Wednesday 13 November.