corporate responsibility human rights shopping social justice

How long can Primark get away with it?

  • Two years ago War on Want found evidence that Primark used sweatshops in Bangladesh where workers were paid 5p an hour. “As members of the Ethical Trading Initiative we are fully committed to the campaign to improve working standards in Bangladesh,” said a Primark spokesman.
  • In June last year the BBC’s Panorama found children as young as 9 working for 60p a day in India. ‘We are appalled, we feel let down and we are taking all the action we can to prevent this happening again” said Chief Executive George Weston.
  • In December War on Want’s follow-up report found Bangladeshi workers doing 80 hour weeks for as little as 7p an hour. “Primark specifically is an ethical organisation,” they maintained, “is committed to ethical sourcing, and seeks to improve living standards in these countries.”
  • Today it emerged that a BBC undercover journalist was able to get a job making knitwear for Primark, in a sweatshop in Manchester where illegal immigrants were working 12 hour days for £3.50 an hour. “The company believes ethical business practices are of great importance and it works hard to ensure its many suppliers conform to the highest standards of behaviour” say Primark today. “Primark is never complacent, and will continue to do all it can to ensure that its audit process is robust and that shoppers can continue to have faith in Primark’s ethics and its values.”

If anybody still has faith in Primark’s ‘ethics and values’, they’re an idiot. But all this beggars the question – how does Primark define ‘ethical’? How many times can you be caught out? Why do people still shop at Primark?

Primark are member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, and finally the ETI have acted. Primark are to remove all mention of ETI from their stores, pending an investigation. This is finally a positive step from ETI, but two things come to mind. Firstly, I can’t help wondering why sweatshops in Bangladesh wasn’t enough to provoke any action from them. And secondly, I wish there was some kind of real accountability, some kind of justice. Taking down the ‘ethical’ signs isn’t enough – they should put up an ‘unethical’ sign.

It takes me back to our point about the unfairtrade logo. Why do we get to boast about our ethical initiatives, and then just go quiet when they’re proved to be false? Why is exploitation the default? Cheap clothes should come with an ethical warning, like the health warning on a packet of cigarettes.

So what do we do about it, apart from sigh with exasperation when Primark announce their (apparently very healthy) sales figures sometime in the next week? Well, the answer to the question in the title is ‘no longer than we let them’. So…

  • Stop buying from Primark. I don’t agree with boycotts, generally speaking, but there comes a point when a company just can’t be believed any more. If you still believe them, by all means carry on shopping there.
  • Whatever you decide to do, let Primark know. The address you need is:
    Arthur Ryan, Chairman and Managing Director
    Primark House
    41 West Street
    Reading
    RG1 1TT
  • If you prefer, call them on 0118 960 6300
  • If you need some new clothes, check out some real ethical clothing brands. They’re more expensive, but that’s fine – just buy classic designs that won’t go out of fashion as fast. And let us know if you find a good ethical clothing company.
  • Raid those charity shops for secondhand clothes.
  • Host a clothes swap among friends, colleagues, or in your school or church.
  • Fix some old clothes, or rummage around in those wardrobes and find something you forgot you had, or that you bought and that just needs turning up or taking in. Get some thread out and have a go. You’ll wear it with far more satisfaction than any bargain you picked in the sales.

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8 comments

  1. Fabulous post – as the mum of two teenage girls who adore Primark simply because it is so cheap, as I expect many do, I appreciate this post so much. It’s great to see it all set out in one article, their address included. I shall be sure to bring their attention to this, they also like to be aware at that age and be seen to have that little bit more knowledge than their friends. I hope this post gets seen by many – I may have to merntion it on my new blog too, although I presently have no readers so it won’t send your figures up I’m afraid. But it’s so important to get the message out there – keep up the good work 🙂

  2. The price thing is difficult isn’t it? I’ve got friends who have said the same thing, they know it’s not an ethical company, but it is so cheap.
    Part of it is that the problems are so far away, in countries many Primark shoppers couldn’t find on a map. Although it’s sad that human rights abuses don’t affect us equally wherever they may occur, I’m hoping the this latest story might finally get through to people. Manchester is a lot closer to home, and surely harder to ignore.

  3. So you want to make wealth history by promoting Timberland, Patagonia and other mainstream brands?

    You seem a little confused?

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