Lifeworth Review of 2007 GOTO Lifeworth Review 2007: The Global Step Change
Jem Bendell
Adjunct Associate Professor,

Griffith Business School, Australia

Founder, Lifeworth, Switzerland

Dolce and Gabbana

Publicly challenging corporations is considered a dangerous business in many parts of the global South, as recognised by Ethical Corporation magazine in their selection of the Best Ethical Leaders of 2007, which included the anti-corruption journalist Lala Rimando, from the Philippines, the second most dangerous place to be a reporter after Iraq.1 But that a leading journalist on corporate irresponsibility and crime in Europe required police protection during 2007, after "highly credible death threats", was a stark reminder of the continued problems with organised crime, corruption and related commercial interests in in the 'developed' world.2 Roberto Saviano had written a book on the Camorra, the lesser known yet more powerful branch of the Italian mafia, based around Naples.

1 Ethical leaders: Best of the best - 15 leaders who made a difference in 2007,
2 Gang Rule, The Guardian,,2239350,00.html

In November the English translation of 'Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia' was published, and made the book review sections of leading newspapers, though not the business news or lifestyle sections. Perhaps journalists, or their editors, did not want to detonate the full explosiveness of this book, given the significant income from high-end brand advertising. The book reports that a white suit worn by one of the world's most famous women, Angelina Jolie, on the red carpet at the Oscars, was made by someone employed by organised criminals accused of multiple murders. No wonder then that the publishers decided not to mention that a white suit worn by Mrs Jolie at an Oscars ceremony was from Dolce and Gabbana. Bloggers such as BabelMed made the connection, as could anyone searching Google for images of Ms Jolie at previous Oscar awards.3

3 Catherine Cornet, 2007, Babel Med,

Although this is a brand bomb waiting to explode, Saviona's analysis is wider than attacking one company. He describes a widespread system of commercial dependence between Italy's fashion industry and organised crime around Naples, so extensive that it suggests many famous brands will be contaminated by association. He describes an auction process where multiple suppliers compete to try to meet an order, with the fashion brand only paying one of the suppliers who meets the quality, quantity and deadline first. As they are not paid until after delivery Saviano says most bidders are financed by the Camorra. He also suggests that the well made products that are made for the fashion labels but are excess to requirements then find their way into the counterfeit market, through the Camorra. He argues this system keeps prices paid to suppliers by the fashion brands as low as possible, so they do not challenge the counterfeiting directly.

In December an Italian TV documentary on Rai 3, entitled 'Slaves of Luxury', dug deeper into the supply chains of leading Italian fashion labels.4 The programme detailed cases of illegal Chinese immigrant labour in Italy making accessories for D&G, as well as Prada and other leading brands. The programme had an audience of four million and the forums on RAI's website were swamped with concerned viewers.5

5 Alessandra Ilari and Luisa Zargani (2007) Italian Television Program Alleges Fashion Misconduct, Womens Wear Daily, December 04, br>--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"We asked to meet with Dolce & Gabbana also, considering that we found their trademark [in the factories with illegal labour], but their response was "no comment" explained RAI 3's Milena Gabanelli. Given that Ms Jolie was still being photographed wearing D&G branded products during 2007, the risk to her own reputation as a conscious global citizen remained.6 One option for her might be the Star Charter for responsible brand endorsement, launched in a report by WWF-UK in November, which offers six principles to guide celebrities.7

7 Deeper Luxury: Quality and Style When the World Matters, 2007, Jem Bendell and Anthony Kleanthous, WWF-UK,

Some brands did respond to the TV journalists. One was Prada, whose group communication and external relations director Tomaso Galli explained that the company has "two different kinds of inspectors, those who check quality and those who control the working conditions of the suppliers. But we're not the police and our inspectors do not have an unlimited access to all areas and documents. Regrettably, situations like the one described in the show, which we agree are unacceptable, may occasionally occur notwithstanding our controls, but they are odd and the show did not bother to mention what the overwhelming reality is."8 This does not refute TV presenter Sabrina Giannini's point that companies like Prada only inspect labour conditions after the contracts are signed, and take quality, price and punctuality far more seriously. "The compliance with the rules could be verified from the start, thus 5 months earlier, and it was sufficient to ask the proprietor for the pay envelopes and registration numbers of the employees," she explained. Furthermore, the programme shows that Prada's 'piattine' nylon bags retailing in Milan for 440 euros are bought from suppliers for just 28 euros. "Is it the proprietor of the [factory] the one exploiting his workers, or is it Prada that pays too little and, right from the start, must realize that at these prices it is possible to produce only under certain conditions?" she asked.


Three judgements have been issued by the Public Prosecutor?s office in Florence, against the owners of Chinese firms in Italy that exploited illegal labour to produce shoe soles for Christian Dior, Gucci, and handbags for Gianfranco Ferrč. Despite these few cases, it is a situation "that as a whole is tolerated, perhaps to prevent these companies from going directly to China" argued Milena Gabanelli.

The programme discussed the damage these practices may have on the 'Made In Italy' label and brand. "What the world envies us is precisely the prestige of our fabrics and the skill of our artisans. If this is not preserved, there is a risk of ruining a unique heritage. But instead, there are those who prefer investing a great deal in advertising, perhaps overlooking the substance" said Sabrina Giannini. CEO of luxury brand Tod's, Diego Della Valle, agreed on the programme: "I tell other important brands like our own that we must be very careful not to water down the great consideration that the world has of articles made in Italy... When people have money, especially in these emerging countries, they want to buy the major Italian brands, and also articles made in Italy, but this serves especially to preserve the great Italian handicrafts sector. Well, for 10 or 15 years now I have been saying that if we don?t watch out, we will lose the "Made in Italy" little by little."

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