Primark is one of Europe’s largest clothing retailers, with more than 62,000 employees and more than 295 stores in Europe, as well as several recently opened stores in the north east of the United States. As an expanding international business with a global supply chain, it recognises the challenges of operating a large retail business that sources from the developing world.

It also believes it has a responsibility to act and trade ethically and that by doing so it can be a force for good. Primark takes this responsibility to the workers in the factories, their communities and its customers very seriously. It works hard to ensure its products are made in good working conditions, and that the people making them are treated properly and paid a fair wage.


A global business

Improving ethical standards in factories throughout the supply chain and tackling environmental issues is an ongoing process. Primark has a dedicated ethical trading and environmental sustainability team of more than 60, based in the UK and key sourcing countries including China, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan, Vietnam and Cambodia. The team monitors standards in factories and works with suppliers to resolve issues and provide training. It is in daily contact with factories that supply Primark, engaging with them on audits and remediation. “We are not trying to impose our ideas on local cultures,” says Paul Lister, Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary. “Rather we want to encourage rigour in what we are trying to achieve.” Regular factory audits are vital to improving standards. “We have a reputation for some of the toughest industry audits out there,” says Lister.

The company works closely with suppliers because it genuinely wants to understand the problems affecting workers in its supply chain. It also works with the communities where factories are based, as well as with local NGOs, charities and unions. The aim is to understand what is going on in a factory and identify the most effective way to resolve issues should they arise. “It is about thinking globally but acting locally,” says Katharine Stewart, Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability Director.

Primark has been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) since 2006 and has held ETI Leader status since 2011. All of the company’s work with suppliers is built on Primark’s Code of Conduct which is based on the ETI’s Base Code. Frequent inspections of Primark suppliers are carried out to ensure the code is enforced, as it is a condition of doing business with Primark. It also operates training programmes with its suppliers covering a wide range of topics such as health and safety, fire prevention, HR processes and business efficiency.

In 2010, Primark joined the Better Work programme, a United Nations initiative that encourages the sharing of information between companies to improve conditions and training in countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Primark is also involved in the HER (Health Enables Returns) Project, which offers female staff practical, life-enhancing advice.


Caring for the environment

Primark also recognises its obligation to consider carefully the use of natural resources, within its stores, operations and the factories that make its products. It works hard to reduce the environmental impact. In February 2014 Primark signed up to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign, and in March 2015 it was recognised as a leader on this issue. Primark is also focused on phasing out certain chemicals from its supply chain by 2020.

“The key words for us are integrity and rigour,” says Lister. It’s a commitment that is echoed by Stewart. “We want to do what is right,” she says, “and follow best practice.”