Sir Philip Green – or Uncle Phil, as Kate Moss calls him – has been all over our screens recently for apparently enriching himself at the cost of BHS – and all it’s staff, both past and present. Just today, Lady Barbara Judge, the former chairman of the Pension Protection Fund, has called on the former boss to compensate the company’s pensioners. So now we know this, can we still shop at Topshop, or any of his other stores?
I hate that I have to think twice about this. I want to say: “That’s it! I’m boycotting Topman!” But the painful truth is that I really like their clothes. And I like their prices (particularly their sales). It would feel pretty hypocritical to boycott Topman and then shop somewhere else that has equally unjust, but less high profiled, systems and ethics. But then it would take a lot of effort to find clothes I like – and can afford – from a more ethical source; so it feels easier to tell myself that my business won’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things, and I might as well carry on. Which feels pretty hypocritical as a follower of Jesus. There are some questions I wish I’d never been asked.
I wouldn’t stop shopping in Topshop because the owner is disreputable. I can’t see how losing sales in one small part of a business empire would punish the billionaire who owns it. But it could have a potentially big impact on the staff working in the stores. Many of the shop floor staff in Topshop are paid just the minimum wage so to threaten their jobs or reduce their hours because sales are falling would be really cruel to them.
Next time you are in Topshop give the staff a smile and let them know you support and appreciate them – despite Philip Green.
Reading about Philip Green is never really a pleasant experience, let’s be honest. And I’d be lying if I said that I don’t ever feel a slight twinge in my conscience when I think about the fact that I am probably contributing to his incredibly vast wealth on a regular basis. My absolute favourite jeans come from Topshop, and I always have several pairs on the go, because I wear them that much. I’ve grown up in Australia and New Zealand, where clothing is often pretty expensive and selection is more limited, so shopping at the famous Topshop was a dream come true for me when I first arrived in London. Apart from my jeans, I don’t buy much else from there now, as the glamour has worn off somewhat, but with its cupcake stalls, nail bar and makeup shop, it’s still a place I stop into regularly, and I would definitely still shop there. My main reason? Call me shallow, but I don’t like the look of most ethical clothing. It looks great on my friends, but it just doesn’t suit my taste. I do buy a lot of vintage though, which soothes my conscience somewhat – but there really needs to be a fashionable (and reasonably priced!) alternative for fair fashion.
I don’t really shop at Topshop anymore because ASOS and Zara do affordable fast fashion at a better price, with a bigger size and colour range. In the early 2000’s Topshop at Oxford Circus used to be every fashionistas Mecca – buzzing with fashion and lifestyle inspiration from clothes to hair, makeup and even cool candy. But now those girls have grown up – and they pay tax – unlike Sir Philip! Ethical fashion has a very long way to go and there may never be a way to keep fast fashion cheap and produce it 100 per cent ethically, however with his latest faux pas Sir Philip has brought the issue to the UK high street. Now, our own friends, family and neighbours have been unfairly treated by his most recent business deal, which has forced some of us to rethink where we shop – or at least it will do, until the next TopshopXBeyoncé collection hits the stores and we have to have that crop top Bey is wearing in her latest video as it brings us one degree of separation closer to the queen herself! Not shopping at Topshop won’t change the way Phil does business and if I’m honest making this stand because it has affected people in my country means I might have to make a stand on how other businesses conduct themselves and treat workers in other countries. This may mean I’m limited to charity shopping for the rest of my life and as much as I love a good vintage number I don’t have the time – or more embarrassingly the conviction – to change my NEED for fast, fashionable clothes.
I am willing, in theory, to take a stand against Sir Philip Green and his unethical way of doing business. The tricky bit I find, though, is consistency. Is it okay to make a noise of Sir Phil’s ‘unscrupulous chancery’ without kicking up fuss about Amazon, Starbucks or Google? It turns out that there’s a lot of rich people and businesses that don’t pay tax. Yet the initial furore over the Panama Papers has appeared to died down for the most part. Are we just too weary to try care about these things after we’ve dealt with many of life’s more immediate-seeming problems? Like bills. And Pokemon Go.
It can be awkward as a Christian to know how to engage with the ethical challenges we face in our consumerist culture. Very often, in our flurry for more, or for just what our neighbour has, we inadvertently partake and support all manners of – I’ll say it – injustices. From slave labour and tax avoidance, to elaborate greed and disregard for the environment. Many continue to make eye watering profits from exploiting the poor, and we will in the main be blissfully unaware as our pounds line their pockets. But when we do discover an injustice, as in the case of Philip Green, who clearly has very little regard for the workers who help make him his billions, we must surely do something. As Christians we can feel dis-empowered by huge corporations, but we should not underestimate the power of our collective voice as Christians, and as consumers, to make a difference; by in the main not consuming what they’re selling and not empowering what they’re preaching. Many might be familiar with the phrase WWJD… I wonder if today we should ask What Would Jesus Buy – or more importantly, not buy.
I’m conflicted – why would I stop shopping at Topshop because of the dodgy and unethical dealings of a rich white guy, when I’ve never made the effort to find out how Topshop treats the poor non-white people who make their clothes? I suspect that there’s injustice at the top and bottom of the global wealth scale and I should be reacting to both. Let’s be honest – I’m not going to stop shopping on the high street, but I can do better at knowing where the clothes I’m buying come from, as well as knowing where the money I’m paying is going to, and acting accordingly.
When I was at school, Topshop was the uniform on non-uniform days. We’d all trot in to maths class wearing the same moto jeans and vest top, with our PE squashed into the carrier bag we bought the clothes in. These days, I’m not such a fan, but I can’t pretend that that’s because of Philip Green’s shamelessly unethical business practices. And let’s face it, they’re nothing new; for years we’ve heard of his tax avoidance, the protests around staff wages and sweat shop scandals. Also, buying your third super-yacht the same week you’re being investigated by MPs for enriching yourself at the cost of BHS doesn’t do one’s image a lot of good. So yes, it would be great for us all to steer clear of Green’s kingdom, but where will we shop instead? Which leaders in business are following a different path, and ensuring ethics are their measure of success, over profit? We need a generation of Christians to rise up and fill these positions of leadership, so that our future, not only in business, but politics, sport and media, isn’t as depressing as our present.
Apart from a bag I bought when I was 18, I don’t think I’ve bought anything else from Topshop. If I was a frequent Topshopper, would I change my shopping habits because of Phillip Green? I’d like to say yes. As Christians, surely we have a duty to set an example. Should we not be striving to ensure all our clothing and garments are created in an ethical way, which treats all the people involved in the process fairly and equally? This is a lot easier said than done. But I’m an optimistic person and like to think big.
Our friends at Tearfund Lifestyle have responded to our thoughts. Check them out here.