Data Dive: Primark vs.TK Maxx


Last updated: November 2017



Data Dive: TK Maxx v Primark


Here we take a dive into some of the data behind our recent report on clothing and introduce our range of consumer tools.

Our main product report (you can find that here) looks at the problems associated with fast fashion, including workers' rights issues and environmental concerns. 

There is a separate score table for smaller ethical brands that can be found in our guide to alternative clothing companies and the scores here are much higher.

In this data dive we'll focus on one interesting result of the research….

Primark has been eager to paint itself as an ethical company while TK Maxx has remained an ethical outlier but both score just 4.5 out of 18 on our ethical rating table.

In this data dive we’ll show you how our ranking system helps to expose greenwash and potentially disingenuous corporate PR.



Let's begin with the basic score table...

The table on our guide page covers high street shops and widely available clothing retailers. As you’ll see, there is quite a range of scores from 9.5 at the top to 0 at the bottom.

On the image below you can see the bottom half of the table – all those scoring 5 or below.



You’ll see that Primark and TK Maxx are right next to each other scoring 4.5.

It’s only the supermarkets and Amazon who score worst than these two clothing brands.


Expanded table view  

If you expand the table you can see that TK Maxx and Primark score badly across a whole range of our categories from Pollution & Toxics to Anti-Social Finance.



Policy vs. Practice


One thing of interest here is that Primark scores better than TK Maxx in two key policy areas:

Supply chain management and Environmental reporting.

However Primark still picks up additional marks in categories related to these reporting areas and this is one reason that the companies score the same overal score of 4.5.

We'll explain how you can find this out below




Environmental reporting and the environment section


Using the sliders next to the score table we can show just the environment category scoring.




If you click on the first blob on the table next to TK Maxx you’ll see that it scores a Worst Ethical rating for environmental reporting.

If you do the same for Primark you’ll see that it scores a Middle Ethical Consumer rating for environmental reporting.


However you can also see from the detailed table view that Primark scores more negative marks overall than TK Maxx in the environment category.

Primark also picks up negative marks for:

  • Pollution and toxics
  • Habitats and Resources and 
  • Climate change


On the other hand TK Maxx only gets an additional negative mark under pollution and toxics.


On the product guide itself you can click on each of the blobs on the table mentioned above to see more detail about the stories.



Supply chain and workers' rights


You can find a similar situation in the People categories. Again we can use the sliders to view only the part of the table related to the People categories.




From the image above you’ll see that Primark has no negative marks in the supply chain management column, as it scores an Ethical Consumer Best rating here. 

TK Maxx, on the otherhand, picks up a half mark for a middle rated supply chain management policy.

However that doesn't tell us the whole story. You’ll see that in the same People section both companies pick up additional marks.


Primark picks up these additional marks for:

  • Sourcing and operations in oppressive regimes (human rights)
  • Scoring badly in an Oxfam ranking of food companies (human rights)
  • Poor conditions on a tea estate (workers' rights)
  • No cotton sourcing policy for Heal & Sons (workers' rights)


TK Maxx picks up its additional marks for

  • Sourcing from oppressive regimes (human rights)
  • No commitments to source gold and diamonds responsibly
  • Paying just $3 per hour in the US (workers' rights)
  • No policy to ban use of sandblasting (workers' rights)





Ownership makes a difference


As you click through the various stories behind the scores you’ll see that in the case of Primark some of the stories are about its parent company Associated British Foods.

Ethical Consumer aims to see behind the brand image and 'follow the money'. This helps consumers see who they’re buying from and to more easily make ethical choices.

You can find out who owns which brands by clicking on the company name on the table. 

Here you can see an example from Primark.





So what's the conclusion?


Obviously neither are the most ethical retailer you could choose so to see some much better options look at our Ethical Clothing guide.

But if you are making a decision between Primark and TK Maxx, it depends upon your personal priorities and that's where the sliders can help.

But in the clothing industry, supply chains and workers' rights are a key issue and it is here that Primark has the edge over TK Maxx.

Primark scores our best rating for Supply Chain Management and has done the last three times that we have rated them since 2011. It is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative which works with trade unions and ngos to improve workers' rights. It has signed the Bangladesh Accord to improve factory safety. It is a member of the ACT initiative to address living wages and is part of the International Labour Organisation's Better Work program.

TK Maxx is not a member of any of these initiatives and scored worst for Supply Chain Management the last two times we rated them, rising to a middle most recently.




Diving deeper into the data

We hope this data dive gives you a clearer idea of Ethical Consumer’s tools and how they can help you delve that little bit deeper behind the brands, helping to shine a light on the practice of companies as well as their policies.  







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