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The Devil Wears Primark...or M&S, or MK One, or Gap, or Nike etc etc


Posted At: 16 June 2008 16:11 PM
Related Categories: General


Primark – the UK retailer known for rock bottom fashion – has said in a statement issued today that it has cancelled orders with 3 southern Indian factories that failed to meet its ethical rules in relation to sub-contracting, home working and child labour.

Primark operate strict Supplier Code of Conduct which bans the use of child labour and requires all third party sub contractors be vetted in accordance with this, and so made the decision to cancel orders with factories contravening its Code of Conduct while withdrawing the affected garments from sale. Yet the cheap as chips retailer has been under the microscope over the past few weeks in light of the Channel 4 documentary ‘The Devil Wears Primark’ (later pulled due to ‘editorial issues’)…so which one is it, sinner or saint?

I would argue that Primark is no worse than any of the other high street chains and designer labels, and that in all actuality the responsibility and blame should be shared and shared alike.
Thought all those free range/organic/ethical fair trade food and clothing adverts meant M&S had a bigger halo than the other high streeters? I’m afraid not. A recent research report into the ethical ratings of our clothing retailers named Primark the least ethical retailer in the UK, however MK One and Britain’s favourite - Marks and Spencer - were ranked second and third worst! Heard about this ‘living wage’ that is supposed to be a benchmark for pay in India and Bangladesh…it’s not official! Think the £80 you pay for your Nike Air’s represents value, quality and ethical manufacturing? Nike were accused of using sweatshops back in the 90’s! So it’s incredibly confusing for the discerning consumer who WANTS to do right but just doesn’t know where to turn.

As our own Jo Creech states: "With the cost of living at such a high premium I found myself in a bit of a quandary during my weekend splurge. The issue of Primark’s ‘sweat shops’ [was] in the forefront of my mind, [so] it was difficult to decide whether to shop in there or not, however my justification for my £4 T Shirt rooted from the notion that more and more shops that we think are ‘good honest places’ are in fact not so untarnished". And really, we all feel the same.

The basic facts are that no one knows who’s to blame. British press likes to blame the retailers; the retailers say they audit their factories to ensure none of the Ethical Trade Initiatives rules are broken; staff at the factories say they are forced to lie to auditors and factory management say they are forced to bring down prices and therefore cut wages due to pressure from the retailers to deliver cheaper goods, so the circle of blame continues and the truth evades me. All I know is that the garment industry is vital to countries like Bangladesh (it employs nearly 2 million workers there and accounts for 75% of their exports) and that if Primark, Gap and whoever else keep being forced to pull orders from their factories their economy is going to be in deep trouble. Everyone needs to work together to ensure that factory workers have good conditions and get a fair wage, and I'm afraid you do have to commend Primark for its latest announcement – the launch of the Primark Better Lives Foundation (yes, I  know it’s a basic rule of PR that you implement damage control in light of bad press, so its no surprise that Primark have done this, but who cares what the reason is, surely its enough that the retailer is stepping up and doing something positive about the situation rather than just apologising like people – and retailers - always do?) – and hope that other retailers make the same kind of moves.

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The opinions expressed herein are the personal opinion of the author and are not intended as statements of fact and do not represent the view of SnapShop or Pragma in any way.


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