James Moore: Cheap but not cheerful
Outlook: Someone, somewhere, will be getting squeezed
Tuesday 08 September 2009
So well done, Primark, the discounter that is proving that you don't have to be a supermarket to sell cheap clothes successfully. While others stutter and stall, it has gone from strength to strength, and Primark stores are busily gobbling up space on high streets up and down the country.
While the retailer does this, it provides an awful lot of jobs and will pay an awful lot of tax. So it seems churlish to mention the downside to all this bonhomie. Unfortunately, there very definitely is a downside. If you can make the sort of money Primark makes while selling at the prices it does, it matters not how efficient you are. Someone, somewhere, will be getting squeezed. Usually that means the people who make the clothes in poorer parts of the world, where they are paid a pittance, at best. As Primark expands, this is an issue it is going to have to confront.
But critics have to realise that this is a business whose time has come, and if Britain's recovery is as tortuous as the economists predict, then there will continue to be a ready market for Primark's offering. It might sound harsh, but if you are struggling to get by on low wages, or even benefits, you simply don't have the luxury to worry about why things are cheap. They're just cheap.
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