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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
BHS boss in Cameron clothes row
David Cameron, speaking to Business in the Community
Mr Cameron says he's not prepared to turn a blind eye
One of Britain's best-known businessmen has attacked David Cameron after the Tory leader accused him of selling a "creepy" line of children's clothes.

BHS boss Philip Green told the BBC News website it was "bizarre" Mr Cameron had chosen to criticise the products as they were withdrawn three years ago.

Mr Cameron mentioned the Little Miss Naughty underwear line as an example of the way sex was used to sell products.

But Mr Green said the line had been dropped as inappropriate and "burnt".

He said the stock was only worth 4,000 and had been pulled from stores within days of it being brought to his attention.

He said he could not understand why Mr Cameron had brought the subject up now.

"Maybe he should catch up on his reading," said Mr Green.

"We would never sell items that were inappropriate for the market."

In a speech to business leaders earlier on Tuesday, Mr Cameron attacked the way sex is used to advertise and sell products aimed at children.

'Harmful'

He said that protecting "childhood innocence against premature sexualisation" was a cause worth fighting for.

It may be good for business, but it's not good for families and it's not good for society and we should say so
David Cameron

He used the example of a range of underwear aimed at girls as young as seven, which BHS had to withdraw after complaints from parents.

He said: "It's not just a bit of fun. It's harmful and it's a bit creepy."

Mr Cameron spoke out during a speech to the "Business in the Community" annual conference in London.

The father-of-three said that like many parents he was "concerned by the impact on children of the increasingly aggressive interface of commercialisation and sexualisation".

"I have no desire to wrap kids in cotton wool - growing up is about finding out what goes on in the real world," he said.

"But the protection of childhood innocence against premature sexualisation is something worth fighting for.

"Sometimes I think that our society treats adults as children and children as adults.

"I remember a couple of years ago BHS had to withdraw a range of underwear for kids after some mums objected to the fact that padded bras and sexy knickers for the under tens were on sale."

Dynamism

Mr Cameron said: "That sums up why parents are often reluctant to complain - even when they feel uneasy.

"No-one wants to be seen as uptight or over protective. 'Relax, it's only a bit of fun'. But actually it's not just a bit of fun - it's harmful and creepy."

The Conservative leader said marketing and advertising agencies even had a term for this - KGOY (Kids Growing Older Younger).

"It may be good for business, but it's not good for families and it's not good for society and we should say so," he said.

He argued that his party would "always stand up for business" and "passionately believed in the dynamism of the free market and the power to do good".

'Speaking out'

But, he added, this support did not come at any cost.

"I've never believed that we can leave everything to market forces," he said.

"I'm not prepared to turn a blind eye if the system sometimes leaves casualties in its wake," he said.

Corporate responsibility, the cause championed by business, was "always very much part of my personal values when I worked in business", he said.

But, "when I see businesses behaving irresponsibly, I'm going to speak out", he added.


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