On the 10th of January Primark announced they were investigating after reports made by the Observer reports made by the Observer and the BBC suggested a Manchester supplier may have breached employment and immigration laws.
Primark’s auditors are not, it seems, the sharpest tools in the box. After all, it isn’t the first time that Primark have said they were blissfully unaware of what was going on within factories that supplied them. Even after journalists uncover reams of evidence and information Primark maintain that they have stringent checks in place, that the supply chain is too complex to really know anyway, that it is a one off and that it IS possible to make a sequined top for £3. In the most recent Manchester incident Ethical Primark explains that “this was the third time in less than a year that independent auditors instructed by Primark had inspected TNS”
Unfortunately missing, again, what journalists were able to uncover. (Is it only me that was a tiny bit surprised that the workers were actually paid as much as £3 an hour?! After all it is apparently impossible to pay workers in India a wage that they can live on, even though that is almost nothing in pounds.)
Blogger,The Seldom Seen Kid says:
“Primark can not continuously find itself embroiled in these sorts of allegations, if it is to survive in the high street. There will be a point when the public vote with their feet and walk away from the clothes store. You would have thought.”
So you would have. But no. As ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ goes on to point out, the Primark shoppers interviewed by the Manchester Evening News didn’t seem overly concerned at the reports. And you might think that is just down to chance and other shoppers, not interviewed, might have cared enough to change where they shopped. Primark’s rising profit levels suggest otherwise. Boo hiss.
I watched Panorama's investigative documentary, 'Primark on the Rack', http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/7468781.stm which uncovered evidence that certain items of clothing made by Primark had been made using child labour and in incredibly bad conditions and for really poor pay. Primark were apparently shocked and very upset (not so shocked or upset that they actually bothered to speak to the journalists, but their press release said they were so it must be true)and immediately blamed the entire thing on a number of rogue suppliers which they then ceased trading with.
A whole lot of interesting questions were raised such as:
'How come Primark find it so hard to know what's happening in their supply chain when Panorama manage?'
'Is it even possible to make a £4 top ethically?'
(see here for a fuller discussion), and the programme provided lots of factual evidence but in the end left me baffled and confused.
'Primark on the rack' clearly showed that certain items had definitely been made in appalling conditions. It then confronted consumers with this evidence and asked whether they still got any pleasure from their sparkly £4 top or whether it would now stay at the bottom of a drawer. The teenagers were shamed into saying they would never wear the tops again and that it made them feel sick.
Then we were told that we, as consumers, must not turn our backs on the poor in Bangladesh etc so should carry on shopping in places such as Primark. Eh? So buy the clothes but leave them lying in the bottom of a drawer in shame? Or buy them and wear them but feel bad and maybe write a letter to salve our consciences saying we don't like children being used as labour?
Of course Primark shouldn't turn their back on the suppliers and should work with them to improve things, especially since it seems somewhat obvious that demanding clothes be made so cheaply and quickly means leads to the problem.
But why does that mean I should carry on shopping there? Surely it is better to buy something that is more ethically made? And surely Primark are more likely to care if they see a drop in profits?!