burberry.jpgBurberry,
the British fashion brand best-known for its check raincoats, is not
the first western clothes manufacturer to shift production to China.
And it won't be the last, for sure. So its surprising to see just how
much of an uproar its plan has recently created.

The decision to close its Treorchy plant in south Wales in March and
shift 300 jobs to Asia — China is the most likely candidate — was
announced last September and outside of the local press, it went
unnoticed.

Recently, however the closure has grown to become a cause celebre —
literally — with actress Emma Thompson becoming the latest in a
growing list of politicians and celebrities to oppose the closure.

Ms Thompson, like a lot of Burberry fans, is concerned that a brand
so quintessentially British and upmarket should have to resort to
manufacturing in a low-cost country like China. A local politician has
gone further and wants Burberry stripped of its royal warrants.

The left-leaning Guardian, wearing its heart on its sleeve, has a well-written piece on the plight of the affected workers.

The Welsh factory makes Burberry's polo shirts — not its iconic
check raincoats — and the union representing the workers claims the
factory manufactures them at a unit cost of £5 while their full retail
price is 12 times higher. In China, the union calculates, it might be
able to reduce the unit cost to £2 or £3.

The subtext, clearly, is that Burberry is just being greedy. This is
not the familiar story of the struggling western manufacturer driven to
relocate to China by cut-throat competition, the union argues. Instead,
Burberry has an apparently viable factory in Wales but wants to close
so that it can maximise profits using cheaper non-unionised Chinese
labour.

The company has done itself no favours by refusing to say whether
the factory is profitable or not and it has clearly been caught out by
the scale of the backlash against its decision — there is now even a website for protesters to channel their outrage.

No doubt Burberry orginally believed the closure could be explained
away as a regrettable but straightforward business decision — much
like the countless other factory closures that have blighted employment
in south Wales.

But like it or not, the Burberry closure has taken on a much larger
political dimension and touched a nerve in the British psyche. What's
worse, Burberry's clumsy handling of this affair could ultimately end
up costing it more in lost goodwill than any potential labour savings.

With impeccable bad timing, Burberry has just unveiled an advertising campaign
for its spring-summer collection that features Kate Moss and other rich
young things, so confirming the company's insensitivity to its workers
plight, according to this vitriolic report in local paper Western Mail.

Burberry's bosses have now been summoned before a parliamentary
committee to give evidence to an ongoing enquiry into globalisation and
its effects on the UK economy. They better come up with some convincing
arguments.

email