Value fashion retailer Primark is to partner with the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK to improve working conditions for garment workers in developing markets.
The company says the partnership will combine the presence, networks and expertise of both organisations to improve the health and wellbeing of local workers, bolster national economic development and help alleviate poverty in five of its key markets. Currently Primark works with 700 suppliers across its supply chain, many of which are in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Burma and Ethiopia.
From providing gender equality training in garment factories to training female nurses, a large part of the yet-to-be finalized programme will focus on creating positive change for women working in the developing world.
Paul Lister, responsible for Primark’s ethical trading team, told Ethical Performance that the company was committed to making a difference: “Primark recognises that no one retailer alone can have a positive impact on an entire industry, which is why it operates in collaboration with other retailers, trade unions, charities, international organisations and government bodies to raise standards. This partnership with DFID is part of that collaborative approach.”
The Primark ethical trading team is based in the UK, Germany, Turkey, Bangladesh, India, China, Pakistan, Cambodia and Vietnam and is supported by a wide range of external organisations, including auditors, NGOs, and project partners. Improving ethical standards in factories and throughout the supply chain is an ongoing process, maintains Lister: “Primark is like nearly every other retailer, from high street brands to designer labels, in sourcing its products from the developing world. In doing so, we share the same challenges around ensuring good working conditions and that the factories in which people work are safe.”
Lister says the company has plans to increase the ethical trading team to more than 70 in the coming months.
Given that the ink has only just dried on the formal partnership, Primark is still in the process of defining the joint goals, but Lister emphasises that the ultimate goal of both Primark and DFID is to improve the working and living conditions of workers and communities in developing markets.
He points out that the partnership will concentrate on achieving transformative change across three key areas: women’s economic empowerment, the creation of new ethical garment sectors in areas such as Burma and East Africa and sharing lessons from the Rana Plaza disaster.
On this point, Lister says that through the partnership, they will look at how brands, retailers and organisations can respond to industrial disasters: “We put in place a proper, long-term compensation scheme based on medical assessments and internationally recognised standards for victims and/or their families, with payments taking into account injury, loss of earnings, and vulnerability.”
Alongside DFID, Primark will take part in information sharing events such as those hosted by the ILO or Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) .
On the issue of female empowerment, Lister acknowledges the challenge ahead: “Trying to effect gender balance is as much about changing male attitudes as educating and empowering women. Gender balance change isn’t something we can tackle alone, but it’s important that we collaborate with other stakeholders, like the ETI and DFID to play our part in creating change.”
International Development Minister, Desmond Swayne commented: “It is vital that the world’s poorest people can benefit from the opportunities of an increasingly globalised world. That is why the UK is committed to helping British businesses to have a positive impact in developing countries.
“By creating jobs, UK companies can strengthen economies. This new partnership with Primark means we can build ethical and sustainable markets to help the aid recipients of today become tomorrow’s trading partners.”