Star hypocrisy: sweatshops and private jets
Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio may campaign for women’s rights and the environment but they seem poor at applying this to their own business ethics and travelling style. Is there any excuse?
When Beyoncé launched her new ‘athleisure’ clothing line, Ivy Park, she said she wanted to ‘support and inspire women who understand that beauty is more than physical appearance.’ The range of £40 leggings and £12 headbands would ‘empower women through sport’, explained Topshop.
There is just one problem. Three weeks after the launch — which was so popular it crashed Topshop’s website — The Sun on Sunday revealed that the clothes were made by young, poor women in Sri Lanka for just 44p an hour.
‘When they talk about women and empowerment this is just for the foreigners,’ said one seamstress. ‘They want the foreigners to think everything is okay.’
But for sweatshop workers forced to labour for 60-hour weeks, everything is not okay. ‘What is being described by The Sun looks like a severe case of exploitation, bordering on slavery,’ said Jakub Sobik from Anti-Slavery International.
Topshop and Ivy Park insist that they have a ‘rigorous ethical trading programme’ and regularly inspect their factories to make sure they are up to scratch. And it is worth noting that the workers still earn more than the national minimum wage. But accusations of hypocrisy are hounding Beyoncé all the same.
She may find some company among her fellow A-listers. Leonardo DiCaprio has also faced some awkward questions after he took an 8,000-mile round trip on a private jet in order to accept an environmental award in New York last week.
His quick return flight from the Cannes film festival will have released around 85 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, according to the Daily Mail.
DiCaprio’s dependence on private air travel ‘diminishes his moral authority to lecture others on reducing their own carbon emissions,’ said the environmentalist Robert Rapier. This is ‘exactly why our consumption of fossil fuels continues to grow’.
Do as I say, not as I do
‘Those hypocrites!’ cry betrayed activists. As usual, celebrities are all too happy to bask in society’s approval when they stick up for worthy causes in speeches — but as soon as taking action becomes inconvenient, they cannot make the sacrifice. If they really cared about women’s rights or climate change, they would try harder to set an example. If you are not going to practice what you preach, step down from the pulpit.
That is totally unfair, say the celebrities’ defenders. These are complicated, difficult problems: the developed world was built on fossil fuels and the exploitation of labour. We all benefit from those systems, even if we don’t like them; we are all hypocrites. Silencing anyone who speaks out against them is not helpful. It only makes it harder for real change to take place.
- Which is worse: being a hypocrite, or saying nothing at all?
- Can one person change the world?
- Fashion is a way of expressing yourself, meaning it can be as political as any other art form. Design a t-shirt which helps to highlight an issue you care about.
- Class debate: This house believes that air travel should be banned to protect the environment.
Some People Say...
“Deeds are always more important than words.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Who cares what Beyoncé and Leo do?
- Quite a lot of people — they are two of the most recognisable faces on the planet, and have both been included in Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world (in 2014 and 2016, respectively). They regularly use their platforms to advocate change: Beyoncé’s music is increasingly political, and Leo used his long-awaited Oscar speech to talk about climate change.
- Should I boycott Topshop?
- That is up to you — although most high street stores make their clothes in places like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where wages and factory conditions are similar. If you do want to make a difference, try doing some research on which brands have the best reputation for ethical fashion before you go shopping, or look online for smaller, independent labels.
- Ivy Park
- The clothing line is named after Beyoncé’s daughter, Blue Ivy, and is part of a collaboration with Topshop. It has not been a great month for the high street store — its owner, Sir Phillip Green, has also been accused of hypocrisy for buying a new yacht as his former business, BHS, went into administration.
- 44p an hour
- On average, The Sun said that workers at the MAS Holdings Factory which makes the garments earn 18,500 rupees a month (around £86). The minimum wage in Sri Lanka is 13,500 rupees (£63).
- Environmental award
- DiCaprio was given a ‘Big Fish’ award by the charity Riverkeeper, along with the designer Ralph Lauren.
- 85 tons
- The Daily Mail used a calculator on myclimate.org to estimate the amount of CO2 released by a private jet flight from Cannes to New York and back. The carbon footprint of private flights can be seven to 20 times greater than commercial flights, although a person close to DiCaprio has said that he ‘hitched a ride’ with someone.
- Fossil fuels
- Aeroplanes run on a form of petroleum (crude oil), nicknamed ‘jet fuel’. It releases CO2 when burned for energy.