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Church fund queries Burberry on ethics

UK - The body responsible for the Anglican Church's pension fund has written to Burberry questioning the luxury retailer's decision to relocate its Welsh manufacturing operations to the developing world.

Yet a spokesman for the Church Commissioners said its pension fund would stop short of threatening to sell its £2.5m shares in the company if Burberry failed to reassure it over employment standards in the new plant.

The Church's pension fund came under pressure to act from local parliamentarian, Chris Bryant, who represents the economically depressed Rhondda constituency where the plant is based.

Although it has stalled the factory closure until the end of March, Burberry attracted criticism for meagre £30 Christmas bonuses. Bryant also described average £1,500 redundancy payments as "lacking in generosity".

The fiercest criticism has come over rumours - which Burberry declined to confirm - that it would relocate Rhondda manufacturing to China. 

Bryant, a former vicar and contributor to the Church of England's pension fund, told IPE: "Anything my money's invested in, I want to know they're not a slave empire. Pension funds have a special responsibility to act ethically."

A spokesman for Burberry, which markets itself as an upmarket British brand in spite of a downmarket appropriation of its trademark plaid in recent years, said it would ensure contractors in the developing world met its standards for labour employment standards.

However, Burberry has not made clear what those standards are - apparently because to do so would likely invite criticism. 

"There's a bigger point here," said Bryant. "What is a British company? Is it one that's listed here or one that carries British values - including workers' rights?"

Burberry manufactures just over 10% of its output in the UK.

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