Saturday, May 28, 2011...10:47 pm

Kate Middleton’s Reiss dress – more opportunistic economic illiteracy by the Daily Mail

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How we love the Daily Mail. Today’s shock news is that the must-have high-street frock that the Duchess of Cambridge wore this week to meet that nice American couple Mr and Mrs Obama was made “in a Romanian ‘sweatshop’ by women on just 99p an hour.”

That’s terrible! The royals are exploiting the poorest of the poor in a grim Eastern European ghetto. Something must be done!

Hmm. Just notice the quotes around that ‘sweatshop’. Why are they there? Because this story is opportunistic nonsense, and I suspect that, secretly, the Mail knows it.

Like most economically illiterate stories in the popular press, it is based on a lack of reason and false assumptions. Worse, the facts in the story don’t support the headline and the story’s attempted slant. Let’s look at them:

  1. Workers in the ‘sweatshop’ get paid more than the Romanian minimum wage
    So, really, it’s not a sweatshop. Unless you think the Romanian minimum wage should be more. In which case lobby the Romanian government. But how do you think the Mail would take to, say, the Americans or the Swiss lobbying the UK government to raise the minimum wage here? Not well, probably. The Mail doesn’t even like the minimum wage. Typical headline: ‘Industry warns on minimum wage’, repeated in various forms here, here and here.
  2. Romania is in the EU
    So, you know, it falls under EU regulations. Of which there are loads, and of which the Mail heartily disapproves, as demonstrated here. So the EU is not protecting Romanians from business, but it is strangling business in the UK. Go figure.
  3. Workers in the ‘sweatshop’ actually don’t complain about it
    Typical quotes: conditions are “good”, “this is normal for me, I’m used to it”, “It’s really nice that a small thing that I do here gets into a ballroom somewhere in the world.” Employee Juliana Haita did say the factory got hot in the summer, but then they get an extra half hour break. It sounds really awful.
  4. Factories are not holiday camps
    Apparently, Mrs Haita has “repeated the same menial tasks on garment after garment each day for the past 15 years.” Yes – it’s a factory. We used to have those factories over here. The Mail is quite nostalgic about them when it suits it. But this factory “resembles an industrial compound”. What on earth is it supposed to resemble? Centre Parcs? Look, you don’t want to work in a factory, I don’t want to work in a factory. But the people who work at Rimcor Ex probably do want to work in a factory – this factory.

The whole thing is nonsense. The only way Romania is going to drag itself out of the poverty bequeathed it by the Ceausescu regime is by trading with richer EU nations and developing its economy.

The solution? The story quotes Greg Muttitt from War on Want (not a typical friend of the Daily Mail), who said: “The Government must introduce regulation to stop UK retailers exploiting workers abroad.”

So, what happens then? Do we help get rid of Romanian factories because we don’t fancy working in them ourselves? Where would Mrs Haita work then? In a nice office? Or would she end up begging or selling her body in the Bucharest slum next door?

And where do we actually buy things from then? If we made our clothes in nice, sunny factories in the UK, where the workers earned £20 an hour, we wouldn’t be able to afford them. And Juliana would have no work at all.


  • Well reasoned out. The Daily Mail needs to do more of this itself, but perhaps it has too many unpaid interns?
    Interns or ‘work experience’ students, as most people know, receive little or no wage at all.
    To quote The Daily Mail today: “Students could use work experience or ‘corporate skills’ to gain extra marks towards their degrees at some universities, it has been revealed.
    “Institutions are planning to allow undergraduates to earn additional credits by displaying workplace expertise, such as the ability to make a good presentation.
    “The move comes as employers increasingly complain that graduates lack skills including leadership and good communication.”
    Might it be ‘read’ that The Daily Mail is paving the way for more unpaid ‘journalists’?
    This story was first published in January; newspapers are desperate for stories on Bank Holidays.
    You might also ask what ‘it has been revealed’ means. Perhaps this meaningless phrase comes from an intern writing on automatic.
    Read more:

  • Not sure about the intern question here – this actually seems to be based on a real journalist’s visit to Bucharest (I suspect an intern wouldn’t have got a flight out).
    Really, the Mail has no idea of economics at all (as noted here), and it also has no idea of how to be consistent with its own views. All in all a bit rubbish…

  • I didn’t question the likelihood that a real journalist went to Bucharest. My point was that the Daily Mail was raving about Rumanian sweat shops whilst waxing lyrical – to the extent of re-running an old article – about more internships for university graduates, i.e. encouraging unpaid work. It simply struck me as the ‘pot calling the kettle black’. But then the National Trust is calling for inexperienced, unpaid advisory ‘farmers’, as my own blog reported. Life is nothing if not ironic.

  • Ah, I see your point! Yes, the Mail is a dab hand at self-contradictory irony. Enough material for a blog in its own right I suspect…

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