The devil is in the retail


When the strange events of the World fashion label crashed into my radio yesterday I may have snickered. On the one hand I thought how cheeky, but on the other the House of G shopper in me had little sympathy for the people paying a hundy for a fifteen dollar T. However by the time I heard Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet talking to John Campbell I started to lose my shit.

In an attempt to justify her actions L’Estrange-Corbet started to talk about the conditions of the factory workers in Bangladesh. The factory she has never visited. The workers she has never spoken to. The factory that she wanted to assure us had no slave labour. Whew. That’s all right then; let’s just carry on then. As long as there are no slaves it must be all right. What L’Estrange-Corbet actually said was that the factory was accredited and the workers worked forty hours, had holidays and “all the same things as our production in New Zealand”. At this point she wasn’t being slightly disingenuous, or sneaky and dishonest like with the shirts, by this stage she was just lying. Unless the factory she is referencing in Bangladesh have a forty hour work week, 4 weeks holidays, sick leave and bereavement leave, there is no comparison. Not being a slave or a child worker does not equate to the same conditions as working in New Zealand.

While L’ Estrange-Corbet discussed the fact that the factories they accessed were accredited (in somewhat vague and unsubstantiated terms), at no point did she mention the Bangladesh Accord. The Bangladesh Accord was introduced after the absolutely horrendous and tragic fire that killed 117 and injured a further 200 workers at the Tarzeen Fashions factory in 21012. The Accord is an agreement between brands and trade unions to make a concerted effort to ensure the safety of workers so that workers at the very least are working in buildings that will not kill them. Tarzeen Fashions employed over 1600 workers at the time of the fire. Among other things they were producing cheap t-shirts.  If the minimum standard that the union movement is trying to implement is a building that won’t kill you, I somehow doubt that they are getting their five days sick leave. A S Colour are not signatories of the Bangladesh Accord.

Throughout the day L’ Estrange-Corbet made comment in various media throwing other New Zealand designers and large fast fashion retailers under the bus in a desperate attempt to take the heat off her. The good old ‘look I’m bad but they are worse’ strategy. In that she is correct.

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While it is easy to compare our conditions with those of the conditions in a developing nation and think we are okay because we have a minimum wage and health and safety legislation there is still much that can be improved upon. The devil, as they say is in the detail. This is especially true of retail. Retailers in New Zealand are notorious for paying minimum wage and getting around the zero hour legislation by offering 3 hour contracts. Taking breaks is often unachievable and overtime is a myth.  The truth is not a single fashion label or fast fashion retailer in New Zealand is an accredited living wage employer. The prices on the New Zealand made swing tags in no way reflect the pay and conditions attached to the workers. Smith and Caughey pay less than The Warehouse.

If L’ Estrange-Corbet has done anything it is to highlight the hypocrisy that of her own practice and that of the industry she so readily sacrificed in an attempt to save her own house from the media pyre. If L’ Estrange-Corbet desires to make an ethical comeback a good place to start might be a bonfire in her in her own backyard. She could commit to paying a Living Wage. She could join the First Union Worth It campaign that seeks a living wage and decent conditions for all retail workers. L’ Estrange-Corbet could put her money where her mouth is. First Union will be happy assist.



  1. She even made the appalling point that she would have though that NZers were “smart” enough to realise that Made in NZ referred only to the tag – so it’s our fault.

    Or, if we are stupid enough to believe that she’s telling the truth, that’s on us.

  2. Small clothing designers were meant to pick up the slack when the larger New Zealand manufacturers were closing down. It was laughable at the time that a few dozen labels employing a handful of staff could absorb the thousands who were being made redundant.

    The overtime and conditions available to staff at this time enabled people to lead a comfortable life without having to run at full speed just to stand still. Designed in New Zealand is great, but we are not all going to be designers. We now have generations of families in some areas in this country who have never had secure, well paying jobs.

    Unfortunately the people running these companies cant help themselves and will try and drive down conditions wherever they get their products made.

  3. So L’ Estrange-Corbet’s “dameship” can be equated to Key’s “knightHOOD”?

    For too many years, what has been notable to me is how the word “integrity” is absent from many people’s vocabularies, & certainly devoid of evidence in their actions; or is the meaning of the word not even faintly comprehended by the likes of L’ Estrange-Corbet? – because it certainly wasn’t by shonKey & many in his govt./cabinet.

    Are the female & the male mates perhaps? (I distinguish between men & women – who are decent, honourable human beings, & males & females – who are ALL THE REST! There are billions more of ALL THE REST than there are men & women on this forsaken planet. One only need look at the type of look-like human who become the majority of politicians in every country.)

    Just another example of the urgent need to abolish the stupidity of honorific titles. (I mistyped & what first appeared was “horrific”. Maybe I should have left the misspelling as it was!)

  4. The arrogance of a 10 pound pom is shining through. All of the make-up cant her hate for workers, the impoverished and less wealthy. Scroogella De Ville estrange!

    Fuck her & her labels off to somewhere else!

  5. If these not-sweat-factories give their workers the same conditions as NZ workers, what is the advantage of transferring all clothing manufacturing offshore?

    Gimme a break Dame Denise…

  6. I have always found L’estrange-Corbet to be an exceptionally ignorant woman.Here in the back of beyond I have always known that her gear was made in Asian sweat shops.This is not news. This recent mainstream media confirmation only cements this crass creature’s hypocrisy.Why anyone is surprised beats me.

    • Disappointed as a woman that L’Estrange-Corbet’s commercial success may have been dependent upon adopting the flawed values of tricky male characters like John Key and little boy blue – that whatever you can get away with is ok and more fool the punter who finds out about it.

      But if the exposure of her misleading labeling practices further publicises the sweat shop conditions of the alleyways of Asia, and the miserably paid NZ factory workers, then in spite of herself L’Estrange – Corbet has done one small bit of good – which she then proceeds to negate every time she tries to explain herself.

  7. Speaking personally, excellent Post and thanks for the effort.

    Warning. Shouty, capital letter stuff following.
    What makes me ‘lose my shit’ is the weird vapours that infect our thinking when it comes to low wage struggle, and why that is.
    What’s happened to our thinking that means we don’t think about what was taken from us that once made a low wage bearable, at the very least, and now, in the absence of those TAX PAID FOR assets, we suffer more now than at any time in living memory?
    And that was our electricity, our communications, our public transport, our hospitals and dental, our education, and for example, our freedom to access first grade fruits and vegetables from the side of the road that was made illegal to do so by the Apple and Pear marketing board which directly benefited Watties who then exported our fruits and vegetables to AU who then undercut the AU locals? And what about the ‘Waitoa’ brand free range chicken in New World Supermarket selling for $28.99 a kilo? One could , if one so wished, buy an entire, living and breathing weaned and fattened lamb off Southland a farmer for $30.00!
    And now, lets talk about the Banks! I heard on RNZ yesterday, two respectable and solemnly professional Bankster people ( Westpac and ANZ) blather out brain farts about our economy. They spoke gibberish. No, really. They spoke in an alien language to confuse and distract from the fact that they’re are RIPPING US OFF! Anyone tax person will , once you get them drunk and high, tell you that ANY increase in ANY wage goes straight back to the Bankster via the gruesome guts of a corrupt system of their making. What the fuck’s so hard about that to understand, would be my question? So? WTF? I ask as my shit’s lost!
    We, the collective ‘we’ must ask where our stuff and things and money’s gone? Then, when that question remains unanswered, instead buried under brain-fart blather, we must insist upon a Royal Commission of Inquiry to aid and enable the correct and truthful answers to those questions and then, if applicable, prison sentences must be apportioned to those be-suited few who ripped us the fuck off!
    Our country’s entirely infected with the like’s of the old vampire above, so what are we going to do about that? Hmmmmm? Do we ask a Twinkle Diddums Head-Fuck Fairy to make Fluff-Fluffs with the Big Bad people?
    Or do we get to know the enemy?
    Psychological manipulation is a common go-to, to control and manipulate us all.
    You think it starts and stops at social media/MSM advertising?
    Chasing higher pay and a fare deal for the low waged is a logical fallacy that will, ultimately, only benefit the Banks. Those bastards are three steps ahead of us and we ,therefore, need to think more simply and clearly.
    We must get our stuff and things back. Now. Today. We must find out where, what and how much we’ve lost and to whom. We must insist on a Royal Commission of Inquiry into all aspects of NZ/AO’s financial history immediately and we must drive the Big Four Banksters out of our lands.

    You think your thinking’s your own? Think again.

  8. The problem with the sweatshops help the poor by giving them jobs argument is how little of the proceeds goes to the people working long hours in hot unsafe conditions and living in piss poor accommodations. Let’s say a pair of shoes cost $60 in the States, of those $60 how much of it ends up in the workers who made it? If the US government cooperated with foreign governments to ensure that US companies doing business abroad had to ensure that the workers of their associates had certain safety standards you’d get the benefits of international trade for said people at an accelerated rate. It would also stimulate the local economies as those workers would have a bit of disposable income and free time to enjoy themselves with and in.

    This is to say nothing about Child Labor. Children working making T-shirts for twelve hours a day are not getting an education and will be ill suited for anything but manual labor. As child labor wages are lower it also keeps wages for adults down.

  9. Unless the factory she is referencing in Bangladesh have a forty hour work week, 4 weeks holidays, sick leave and bereavement leave, there is no comparison. Not being a slave or a child worker does not equate to the same conditions as working in New Zealand.

    And it is these conditions that we should be basing our trade policies on. If the other country’s conditions don’t meet ours then trade is off.

    If every country did this then we’d have a Race to the Top rather than the Race to the Bottom that we’ve had for the last 30+ years.

    • Yes. I know that. Every has to wake up every morning and go to the same market we’ve gone to for the last 200,000 years. But with out The United States rebalancing trade vs Bangladish or any one else is mathematically impossible because every one will develope in different directions. So we do need a bit of a planned socialist economy just on a global scale.

      Besides if Dame L’Estrange is stupid enough to deal direct with sweatshops instead of using an Asian buyer then she deserves to go bankrupt.

      This is the complex policy trap the denies capitalism the ability to produce rural settings. Just check where manufacturers get all there raw materials. Almost always it’s through western brokers, Rio Tinto, DuPont, ect. But if there was truely a competitive market then the BRICS nations would be driving the US bankrupt and not L’Strange.

      What L’Strange dos was stupid. But she come from a place where stupid is cultivated.

  10. The signing up to the tppa part 2 – just makes the abuse of foreign workers even worse.
    Nowhere in the agreement can NZ stipulate to the other signatory countries, that they must adhere to certain workers rights when it comes to ‘trading goods’. No once again it’s the all mighty dollar it boils down too, stuff workers rights.
    The tppa is basically a slave agreement for corporations.

    • KD 100%,

      We clearly see the casual way the government “hands-off” policy to “trust the industry” doesn’t work at all, so we need Government oversight to control these ‘cow-boys’ or in this case a fully blown up ‘cow-girl’.

      So all the standards will slip under TPP 11 or what ever it winds up being called.

      So sorry to see our country going bad here like a third world economy.

  11. Leave poor “Dame” Denise L’Estrange-Corbet alone! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a decent tiler to finish the infinity pool for your Herne Bay mansion these days??!!

  12. “The prices on the New Zealand made swing tags ”

    Well it sure as hell werent the clothes that were made in lil ole NZ! She said on the RNZ interview that it was only a tag and the text “fabrique NZ” meant nothing. Really? I wonder if i should use her name on a fashion label I create. Hey, its only a label, she said, doesn’t mean anything!

    Pay your workers a living wage Denise!

  13. Where are the protests, where are they, where are the protests by the supposrd NZ “proletariat” to show solidarity, where are the generation zero, X and others?

    I tell you, most do not give a shit, they are dedicated, selfish, and hypocritical consumers, who buy anything they want or consider they ‘need’, no matter whether made by slave labour in Bangla Desh, Foxconn factory slaves making i-phones and the likes in window barred factories in China, or elsewhere.

    The total disconnect between consumer and production is the same disconnect the general German populace had with concentration camps. After the war, they all claimed they had NO knowledge of the state of affairs, they were all innocent, and only wanted the best for all people.

    BS is not an isolated phenomenon, NZ Inc is right in the centre of BS expertise, and most Kiwis are BS too, not honest and up front, continuing to live a life using slave labour and other exploited labour made products daily, and give not one bit of a shit.

    That though also applies to most if not all the ‘developed’ world and its populace.

  14. I wonder what would have happened to the likes of L’estrance Corbet during the time of the French Revolution? My wildest guesses would be not a pleasant treatment.

  15. If you can get today’s (Wed.) O.D.T., see the cartoon on the editorial page. Denise would not be amused.

  16. Aren’t we supposed to be thinking/working smarter not harder….so why are we closing down our textile courses?

    “Plans announced by University of Otago management this week to shut down New Zealand’s only comprehensive bachelors to doctorate degree qualification in clothing and textiles science would severely undermine a valuable sector that draws world class talent to Otago, the Tertiary Education Union said.

    Learning and research opportunities at the Centre of Materials Science and Technology attract students from all over New Zealand and other parts of the world. Graduates of the Centre are employed in a wide range of jobs, with many snapped up by employers for jobs before they have even completed their studies, such is the Centre’s reputation. Postgraduate enrolments have also increased steadily over the last 5 years in parallel with ongoing curriculum developments.”

  17. It will be good if this recent fashion hypocrisy re labour and where garments are made is exposed. This comfortable women is just doing business.

    A typical capitalist example of doing business, probably she would say a living wage would make her business unprofitable… But yeah, conditions in N Z clothing factories are probably hideous. The last time I worked in a factory, it was pretty disgusting..

  18. It makes me wonder though. If you opened a factory in NZ manufacturing t-shirts, how long do you reckon you’d manage to stay in business? How many NZ clothing companies and retailers would resist the temptation to order Bangladeshi or Chinese t-shirts.

  19. It’s easy to get into a Twitter-fulled hate party at these Hunger Games types and their middle class hairstyles, and their boo-teak clothing label. I know I did when I first read the article on the RadioNZ website. But as with Holmes and his infamous “cheeky darky” comment (actually anti-racist satire by Holmes mocking Dubya Bush’s attitude towards the UN), it’s worth going beyond the sensational clickbait, and taking the time to get the full story. Here’s the unabridged version of the interview L’Estrange-Corbet did with The Spinoff:

    Apparently, the vast majority of the products World sells are still made in NZ. The t-shirts people are getting so upset about used to be made in NZ, and continued to be made here until the last NZ t-shirt manufacturer went out of business. I think they made a mistake continuing to sell t-shirts after this, but I don’t think it’s a hanging offence.

    L’Estrange-Corbet claims that the overseas factories where they do source garments are either personally inspected by her business partner, or sourced from AS Colour. She quotes the Child Labour Free Foundation endorsement of AS Colour, and claims that the factory in Bangladesh that produces WORLD t-shirts has worked with AS Colour continuously for 10 years, and holds a Gold Certificate of Compliance from WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production).

    Is it misleading to put Made in NZ swing tags on designer pieces made up of garments made in Hong Kong and Bangladesh? Of course. I think if anyone bought one thinking the whole thing was made in NZ, they would definitely be entitled to a refund or replacement under the Consumer Guarantees Act. As I said, I think it was foolish to be selling anything produced overseas in a shop that sells itself on being a Made in NZ retailer. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater on the basis of clickbait “journalism” from the SpoonOff, retweeted by RadioNZ without proper scrutiny. The detail is indeed in the details.

    • NZ isn’t big buyers of sulphur, azoic or any other chemical used in Dyes, and we barely shaw enough sheep to have a commercial quality of wool any more. How could it be made in NZ with out the ingredients. It’s just a scam but you can’t put where everything comes from on one little label.

  20. Great article. I particularly liked Draco Ts comment re trade policy, and this bit

    “If the minimum standard that the union movement is trying to implement is a building that won’t kill you, I somehow doubt that they are getting their five days sick leave.”

    I live for they day we get those stretch suits that take measurement so you can get your exact size combined with print on demand or just plane quality tailoring so I can buy well fitted stuff that lasts. Fashion is such a waste of resources better used elsewhere.

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