When the new Primark shop opened at Marble Arch last month, hordes of bargain-hunting shoppers broke the doors and fought to get inside. A manager and a security guard were injured as the crowds burst through, hoping to get their hands on opening day offers in what the Evening Standard gleefully reported as a Primark riot.
Although worrying at the time, it was obviously great free publicity for Primark, a company that has recently seen phenomenal growth and a sudden rise in fashion credibility. The main draw, however, is the prices. A shopper told the Guardian newspaper “At Topshop jeans are £40 but here they’re at most £12. The rest of the high street has missed a trick.”
That trick, apart from imitating competitors suspiciously closely, is to get your clothes made in Bangladesh. A recent report from War on Want discovered factories where textiles workers were being paid 5p an hour. Of course Primark deny their wage rates are that low, and point to their code of conduct, but in 2005 Bangladesh was rated the world’s most corrupt country and local auditors’ reports prove nothing. The fact is that out of 27 major retailers Primark came bottom in an ethical survey, scoring just 2.5 out of 20 on an index that factored in low wages and worker conditions as well as environmental damage from pesticides.
There isn’t really such a thing as cheap clothing. Not this cheap. If we’re not paying the right price for an item here, its because someone else on the other side of the world is paying for it instead with a pittance of a wage, long hours, cramped conditions, irregular hours and little time off. In fact, conditions are so poor in Bangladeshi factories that there was widespread rioting in textile factories this time last year. Two people died, and the army was called to restore calm.
So we have a sickening symmetry – British shoppers riot over low prices, Bangladeshi textile workers riot over low wages, and the UK’s least ethical clothing retailer, in collusion with the world’s most corrupt government, makes animals of us all.