Is Beyoncé really a feminist?
In 2016, Beyoncé announced her Ivy Park clothing line in collaboration with Topshop. The sportswear brand claims a “woman-power ethos”. Despite this, some journalists have connected Ivy Park with sweatshops.
An article published in The Sun in May 2016 claimed that workers in Sri Lanka making Ivy Park clothes received less than 44p an hour. However, they make clothes which sell for more than $200.
The Feminist Angle.
The Sun criticised Ivy Park for describing itself as feminist. The company which owns the factories employs 70% women. Shockingly, workers make as little as £4.30 a day. Notably, the article includes a quote from a seamstress saying “When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners“.
In contrast, seamstresses making Ivy Park clothing do earn almost double the Sri Lankan daily minimum wage, which is £2.11. However, the women who make the clothes need a month’s wages to afford a pair of Ivy Park leggings.
Ivy Park is definitely not the only company to hide their practices behind glossy advertising. Nevertheless, a feminist brand should not exploit women.
MAS Holdings: The company behind the factories.
MAS Holdings owns the factories which produce Ivy Park clothing. The company is based in Sri Lanka. MAS Holdings has a reputation for treating their workers relatively well.
Dr. Kanchana Ruwanpura is an expert in the Sri Lankan clothes industry at the University of Edinburgh. She described MAS holdings as “essentially top of the range in terms of labour conditions in Sri Lanka”.
However, she also said that “when it comes to wages and freedom of association, MAS doesn’t do a very good job.” Ruwanpura was worried by workers not being allowed to form unions. The company also imposes curfews on workers living in on-site accommodation.
How Ivy Park responded.
Firstly, the company stated in 2016 that “Ivy Park has a rigorous, ethical trading program.” They point out that many of their workers are paid more than double the minimum wage. However, analysis shows that a living wage in Sri Lanka is three times the minimum.
Furthermore, several women accused Sir Philip Green, who is the owner of the group which includes Topshop, of abuse. Therefore, Beyoncé ended their partnership. Then, in 2019, she announced that she was working with Adidas. The new website says the partners follow “core principles including the importance of women in leadership, shared ownership, empowerment and collaboration.”
So, how unethical is Ivy Park?
Adidas has improved labor conditions for workers in their factories. Also, Ivy Park’s practices are better than many other brands. Therefore the change of partners was an improvement.
The low wages paid to workers undermine the claim that the brand is focused on equality. To live up to the advertising, Ivy Park needs to improve more.
People before profit, always.