Opinion

Why do we keep letting wealthy blokes like Sir Philip Green get away with pretty much everything?

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Harvey Day
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Topshop billionaire Sir Philip Green has been named by Labour peer Peter Hain as the man at the centre of The Telegraph’s #metoo story – but will he face any consequences? 

“What concerned me about this case was wealth, and power that comes with it, and abuse”.

That’s how Labour peer Peter Hain justified his bombshell decision to name Sir Philip Green as the businessman at the centre of the Telegraph’s #metoo story in Parliament yesterday.

“I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of this story which is clearly in the public interest,” Hain added in the House of Lords.

Sir Philip Green, who denies the claims that he sexually and racially harassed employees, has now become the latest in a long line of powerful public figures facing serious questions about their private and professional behaviour.

The Telegraph had spent eight months investigating the allegations of bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment made against the Topshop billionaire.

And they interviewed five members of staff who revealed that victims had been paid “substantial sums” in return for signing non-disclosure agreements – legal commitments not to discuss their alleged experiences.

This story raises so many questions: why did the legal system allow Philip Green to cover up these allegations? And why is it okay to keep this stuff hidden if you’ve got enough dough to pay pricey lawyers?

And, perhaps most importantly, will Philip Green suffer any consequences – ever?

Philip Green’s record

If you look at all the stuff he has been allowed to get away with in the past, the depressing conclusion is simply: no.

This is the same Knight of the British Empire who infamously sold British Home Stores in March 2015 for £1, forcing it into administration and leaving a £571m hole in its pension fund.

In 2016, a damning report by MPs found that Sir Philip had extracted large sums from BHS and left the business on “life support,” according to the BBC. He later agreed a £363m cash settlement with the Pensions Regulator to plug the gap.

Think that was bad? It was also Green who, in 2005, ordered that his company pay a mind-boggling £1.2 billion dividend to his wife who, conveniently, was a resident of Monaco and didn’t pay tax in the UK. Not cool, Phil!

Green with model Kate Moss

Equally uncool: it was Green, again, who was accused in 2010 of using sweatshops that had dirty, dangerous and “appalling” conditions to produce clothes for his high street stores.

For three months, a reporter for Channel 4’s Dispatches worked undercover in workshops in Leicester, stitching garments for British retail chains including BHS, run by Sir Philip Green at the time.

“But that was all in the distant past”, you (probably don’t) say. Well, just this month it was Green who was accused of being a ‘loser’ for Topshop’s decision to shutter a promotional stand for a new book of feminist essays.

“Yesterday #PhilipGreen used his big muscles to smash up the @Topshop @penguinrandom #FeministsDontWearPink pop-up because he thought it was too controversial!!? LOSER” tweeted an angry Thandie Newton, one of the book’s contributors. We might’ve used stronger language than Thandie, but you get the point.

Meanwhile, Philip and his wife Cristina are estimated by Forbes to be worth £3.8bn. More than enough to fund £20m birthday parties and luxury yachts. And more than enough to instruct expensive lawyers to take out an injunction that protects him from articles such as this one discussing the fact that serious allegations have been made against him.

Why does he get away with it?

Yep, these latest allegations against Sir Philip Green, noble Knight of the Realm, are really, really bad. But why have we let all his past transgressions fly? Why can’t we come up with any meaningful punishments for this sort of shitty behaviour?

The answer, more than likely, comes down to cold hard cash.

A new report out today from Swiss bank UBS reveals that billionaires made more money in 2017 than in any year in recorded history. The richest people on Earth increased their wealth by a fifth to $8.9 trillion (£6.9tn), the Guardian reports.

“The past 30 years have seen far greater wealth creation than the Gilded Age,” the UBS Billionaires 2018 report said, referring to a period at the turn of the 20th century when families like the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes.

“That period bred generations of families in the US and Europe who went on to influence business, banking, politics, philanthropy and the arts for more than 100 years. With wealth set to pass from entrepreneurs to their heirs in the coming years, the 21st century multi-generational families are being created.”

Now, is there anything inherently wrong with people making money? Lots and lots of delicious money? Not necessarily. But when that money can be used to buy silence and potentially hide wrongdoing, then we’ve got a problem on our hands.

Peter Hain is absolutely right to be concerned about wealth, power and abuse in Britain. But when you look at Sir Philip Green and so many others like him, we can’t seem to do anything about it.

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(Images: Getty)

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Harvey Day

Digital writer for Shortlist.com / @harveyday94 / harvey.day@shortlist.com

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