Primark

The ethics of Primark have been scrutinised more than maybe any other fast fashion brand. Its low prices were a revelation on the high street when it launched as ‘Penneys’ in 1969 and it continues to sell at rock-bottom prices today.

What makes Primark’s low prices possible?

We examine the true cost of the Primark label, and instances where workers, the environment and other animals have paid the real price for budget clothing.

Is Primark ethical?

Our research highlights several ethical issues with Primark, including environmental reporting, pollution and toxics, workers' rights, animal rights, animal testing, use of controversial technologies, anti-social finance and likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Below we outline some of these issues. To see the full detailed stories, and Primark’s overall ethical rating, please sign in or subscribe.

People

If we just looked at Primark’s policies it would appear to have a reasonably robust approach to workers’ rights. 

For example, Primark displayed good transparency by listing all of the 28 countries it sourced from, and listing factory names, on its company website. It also had a strong supply chain policy, with its Code of Conduct translated into 40 languages and assuring payment of a living wage. Primark stated that it audited suppliers at least once per year, and paid for these audits. As Primark met most of the key requirements in our lengthy Supply Chain Management rating it received our best rating for its policy.

 

However, there have been allegations that Primark has failed to live up to its policies.

In 2019 the Christian Initiative Romero (CIR) issued a report stating that it had interviewed 73 Sri Lankan employees from six named supplier factories to Primark. It stated that none of these met the retailer’s code of conduct, and some were involved in breaches of local law.

 

Primark was poorly reviewed in the 2019 Tailored Wages UK report published by Labour Behind the Label. It claimed Primark showed no evidence of workers being paid a living wage and said “Primark should sign a legally-binding, enforceable agreement with worker representatives to deliver a living wage”. 

Primark was also criticised in an article on the Business & Human Rights website dated December 2017, for failing to pay the legal minimum wage in the UK after deducting money from staff salaries to pay for uniforms.

What’s more, Primark is owned by Associated British Foods (it is the group’s most successful business division). Associated British Foods had operations in 11 oppressive regimes and did not provide factory names. Primark was therefore marked down under our Human Rights category. 

Animals

Primark lost a whole mark under our Animal Rights category. 

Primark retails leather. Due to the company operating over 350 stores in 11 countries, it lost a whole mark under the Animal Rights category as leather was considered to form a substantial part of its business.

It also lost half a mark for Animal Testing. Although it stated that animal testing wasn’t permitted on Primark products, it retailed cosmetics from other brands and provided no assurances related to whether these were tested on animals. 

If we look at Primark’s corporate family tree the animal rights issues become more apparent. 

Its parent company, Associated British Foods, raised and slaughtered pigs. It also sold eggs, stating  "We are committed to sourcing 100% cage-free eggs for our UK grocery brands by 2025." This was taken to mean that hens were being caged for the company’s products at the time of writing. 

Another company in the corporate family tree is Fortnum and Mason. This company sold foie gras, an extremely cruel process in which ducks and geese are violently abused with pipes forced down their throats (sometimes puncturing their throats).

George Weston Foods also sold factory farmed meat under the brand Don.

 

Environment

Primark received our worst rating for Environmental Reporting. It showed some positive intentions, but often lacked detail needed to assure its claims. 

For example, Primark appeared to understand what its key areas of environmental impact were, such as chemical management, sustainable cotton, energy efficiency, transport and GHG emissions. However, it had no quantified or dated environmental reduction targets to address these issues. 

The Primark website section ‘Sourcing Raw Materials’ stated that the company was working with CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to create the ‘Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme’. It claimed that this programme trained female farmers in “sustainable farming methods to improve their income” and said it helped farmers use less water and chemicals. However, it didn’t clarify what it meant by ‘sustainable farming methods’ or  define ‘less water and chemicals’. . 

Primark prohibits use of Phthalates and Triclosanand was listed by Greenpeace as in 'Evolution' mode. It was also a ZDHC signatory

Politics

In 2018 Primark executives George Weston and John Bason were paid £3.8m and £2.7m respectively. Ethical Consumer considered remuneration over £1 million to be excessive. The company therefore lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Primark also received our worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. Its parent company Associated British Foods had at least six high risk subsidiaries in jurisdictions on Ethical Consumer’s tax haven list, including holding companies in Luxembourg, Mauritius and Hong Kong.

Primark also had no policy against the use of GM crops, so it was considered likely that some of its clothing contained GM cotton.

Image: Primark
  • Ethical Consumer Best Buy: No
  • Boycotts: No

Company information

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Company Address:

Weston Centre, 10 Grosvenor Street, London, W1K 4QY

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