By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
If you live in the UK, stores like Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, Burton, Evans, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis dominate the high street, and these are spreading. New York has a huge Topshop flagship, and Topman isn’t far behind. Virtually all the stores named deliver internationally, and have millions of customers. If you were one of them, you’ll certainly be thinking twice before returning once you get to the bottom of this article.
While Primark, the Gap and H&M are often cited as being the least ethical high street shops, it seems any store owned by Phillip Greene, the owner of Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and other stores, is far worse. Here’s why.
Philip Green’s Black Heart
Philip Green is the head of the Arcadia Group, a multinational retailing company headquartered in London that owns, amongst other shops, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Topman, Miss Selfridge and of course Topshop, as mentioned above . The British tabloids regularly relish in the tasteless way he flaunts his wealth. For example, he threw a £4m bar mitzvah for his son, Brandon, at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat in 2005 − with live performances from Andrea Bocelli and Destiny’s Child.
For his nephew, Matt, he threw a bar mitzvah at Madame Tussauds, where Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh were guests and One Direction performed. Matt and Green’s daughter Chloe shared a birthday party in December 2011 at One Mayfair, where Rihanna sang. The party cost over £1 million. For his own 50th birthday, he flew 200 guests in a chartered Airbus A300 to a hotel in Cyprus for a three-day toga party, where guests were serenaded by Tom Jones and Rod Stewart, who was reportedly paid £750,000 for a 45-minute set.
Of course, when earned honestly, money can be spent according to individual whim. But greedy Green’s cash comes from dirty ‘fast fashion’, tax dodging and worse.
Sweatshops & Stolen Pensions
Sir Philip Green was appointed a knighthood in 2006, perhaps unsurprisingly by the notoriously corrupt former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s recommendation, but by 2010, he was the target of activist group UK Uncut. The group pointed out that Green’s acquisition of Arcadia in 2002 was done under the name of his wife, Tina. Tina happens to have residency in Monaco, a notorious tax dodger’s haven, meaning Mr Green’s mega-company didn’t need to pay corporate tax in the UK, though the Arcadia Group’s shops dominated the high street in every town. As if tax avoidance wasn’t enough to put Mr. Green on the stand, Arcadia was also criticised for the low pay and poor working conditions of both overseas and UK workers by anti-sweatshop groups such as Labour Behind the Label, No Sweat and the student activist network People & Planet.
In 2003, when The Guardian was conducting an investigation into Green’s corporate finances, Green responded to the publication’s queries on the subject with a string of expletive-laden outbursts about the paper’s financial editor, Paul Murphy. Green said: “He can’t read English. Mind you, he is a fucking Irishman.” He later apologised to the Irish, after customers threatened to boycott his stores.
Most recently and perhaps worst of all, Green has been splashed all over British headlines for having enriched himself by stealing £517 million, which included the pension funds of employees at BHS− the department store he owned from the mid-nineties until 2015. Over the course of fifteen years, Philip Green extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from BHS employee’s pension funds, and the year after Green sold the company for approximately $1.40 – yes, just over one dollar – to the serially bankrupt ‘businessman’ Dominic Chappell − the chain unsurprisingly collapsed, cutting thousands of jobs in the process. Clearly, Green knew what he was doing when he took out those hundreds of millions!
Recently, Topshop store cleaners lamented the fact their wage did not cover rent and food, but this has not prevented Mr Green from buying a £46 million private jet and a new £100 million yacht. As a reaction, the flagship BHS store on Oxford Street in London was customised by protestors who gave it a makeover in early August. The store got converted into an ironic “yacht club,” according to its new sign, to shame Philip Green for buying several super yachts during the collapse of BHS.
So when you are tempted to wander in one of the Arcadia stores, remember that any purchase will not only help finance the greedy, corrupt Green family’s latest toys, but it will also contribute to the unsustainable, unethical fast fashion industry which Green is so much a part of.
You certainly won’t be missing out in terms of fashion, considering Jane Shepherdson − the most influential person on the British high street − left Topshop in 2007 to move to Oxfam. It is thanks to her that Topshop was transformed from a tacky teenage spending venue into a trendsetting retail experience. With her departure to worthier pastures, the reputation of the clothes and marketing strategy of the Arcadia store has gone down the drain. For example in 2013, Rihanna won a lawsuit against Topshop for having used her image illegally on a T-shirt, that led customers to assume that the pop-singer endorsed the company.
Down With Topshop!
Countless people are now saying that Green should be stripped of his knighthood, following the report of a committee of Members of Parliament which illuminates his avaricious and wildly irresponsible stewardship of BHS. The Cabinet Office has confirmed that Sir Philip Green’s knighthood is under investigation because of his part in the destruction of BHS, which is costing 11,000 people their jobs and threatening to reduce the pensions of 20,000 others.
Green has been in court over the BHS debacle several times this year. Time will tell whether he will face the legal justice he deserves, but for now, as a consumer, you can do your share give Green his just desserts by shopping far away from anything related to the Arcadia Group.