Dutch fashion website takes down £5.99 Lidl jeans piece after plagiarism complaint from Observer writer

A freelance journalist left fuming by what he claimed was an “outrageous” case of "plagiarism" has won a minor victory – but as yet no syndication fee.

Gethin Chamberlin, 49, was less than impressed to read an article on a English-language website in Holland named Fashion United, about sweat shops in Bangladesh which produce denim jeans on sale for only £5.99 in Lidl in the UK.

But it was not the conditions endured by workers making the garments which shocked Chamberlin; because he already very well informed about it. In fact, his detailed knowledge of labour practices in developing countries was what helped the seasoned former broadsheet correspondent to write an explainer article for the Observer about the reality of cheap clothes.

Chamberlin’s article on cheap jeans – for which he drew upon six years of writing about labour rights and visits he has paid to sweat shops  – went viral online, racking up 250,000 views and 27,000 shares on social media. 

Chamberlin has since published a blog pos noting the many similarities between his piece and the article on Fashion United.

The final insult was the total absence of any credit to him as the author of the original work which Fashion United’s article appeared to drew so heavily upon.

He told Press Gazette: “You have to go in to the sweat shops and find out this stuff, only for some prick to come along and say ‘Hey! I’ve got all this information at my fingertips'. I did use information from other people but I attributed it and I say where I got it from, so that people get credit for their work.”

The sting of seeing his own work being redistributed would have been dampened had Fashion United included a link to his article and given him credit as the originator of the information, Chamberlin said.

“This was such an outrageous case I couldn’t let it go,” he said. “Writers should fight and chase it up when this happens, but it’s hard to get people to put their hands up.

“It’s robbery and yet this is considered acceptable. It’s passing off my work which has taken time and effort and involved my own experience.”

Press Gazette contacted Fashion United. A spokeswoman said the article had been pulled down from the site and an apology issued on Twitter to Chamberlin.

Chamberlin – who covered Defence for the Sunday Telegraph before going freelance in 2008 – called upon the publication to make a donation to a labour rights charity in recognition of the blunder.

He said: “I wanted them to say sorry and I wanted them to take it down and now I’ve made the point: you cannot just do stuff like this.”

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