Primark faces new claims that it uses sweatshop labour

2006: War on Want report finds child labourers in Bangladesh making Primark clothes for 3p an hour. Allegations of beating and sexual harrassment are made. Primarkasks for details and says it will investigate
2008: BBC's Panorama finds Primark using child labourers working gruelling hours in slum workshops and refugee camps. Primark blames third party suppliers and says itwill tighten controls on contractors

Primark was embroiled in a new row over the treatment of sweatshop workers today as shareholders gathered to celebrate record profits at the budget clothing chain.

According to new research by charity War on Want, workers stitching Primark clothes in Bangladesh earn so little that they cannot eat properly, and many end up "malnourished". In interviews with the charity, they claimed to be working up to 84 hours a week, and were subjected to verbal threats and banned from joining a trade union.

If true, the allegations would breach a code of conduct introduced by Primark to improve the treatment of workers amid allegations of exploitation. In 2006 and 2008 War on Want reports claimed Bangladeshi workers making clothes for Primark and other British retailers earned as little as 3p an hour for toiling around the clock.

Last year, a six-month investigation by the BBC's Panorama found that children as young as 11 had been sub-contracted to sew beads and sequins on to Primark tops in India.

In the wake of that scandal – a flagrant breach of the £2bn-a-year retailer's regulations – Primark promised to redouble its efforts to end sweatshop labour, even setting up a website, Ethical Primark. But War on Want claimed its latest evidence showed that the improvements had not made a difference to the lives of workers.

It timed its release to cause maximum embarrassment to Associated British Foods, Primark's parent company, as investors toasted an 8 per cent rise in operating profits to £252m at its annual meeting in London today.

Primark responded by criticising War on Want for not passing on the name of the factory, which it said would hamper efforts to tackle any abuses. The firm stressed that ethical behaviour was of the utmost importance to them and assured shoppers they could continue visiting Primark's 136 UK stores with a clean conscience.

A War on Want researcher interviewed 18 workers at one factory – which also makes clothes for high-street stores New Look and Zara – in Bangladesh in October. War on Want declined to name the factory to prevent reprisals or the cancellation of contracts, which might throw the workers out of a job.

The workers interviewed were making clothes only for Primark. Zara said it had a code of conduct and would look into any problems. New Look made no comment. According to Primark's code of conduct, workers should have a maximum 48-hour week, voluntary overtime, wages allowing them to meet basic needs, good sanitation and the right to join a union.

Employees claimed they earned as little as 2,200 taka (£19) a month before overtime – less than half the living wage in Bangladesh of at least 4,500 taka (£39 a month). Factory staff said they worked up to 84 hours a weeks, without access to clean drinking water. Female workers said they were subjected to "verbal threats" if they complained or asked for time off.

According to War on Want, most employees live in slum homes with up to three family members per room, without access to clean water or hygienic toilets. "Workers interviewed were exhausted and malnourished," it said. One employee, Madhovi, 21, said: "My mother is losing her sight in our family's village. The pay is so little that I cannot afford to send money for her treatment."

Khorshed Alam, War on Want's Dhaka-based researcher, said: "None of Primark's claims – so-called ethical staff, training and audits – have made any difference to the workers' poverty." Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Our research underlines the abuse which faces overseas garment workers producing high-street clothes. Shoppers cannot rely on retailers to police themselves." He called for new legislation to improve the lives of foreign workers making clothes for British stores.

Primark issued a robust response. It said: "Primark is greatly concerned that the campaigning group War on Want is claiming once again to have identified a factory owned by a third-party supplier in Bangladesh where working conditions fall below the standards expected both by this company and two other high street brands.

"Primark shares and recognises many of the concerns raised by War on Want, and has asked it to identify factories where it believes standards are not high enough."

Primark added that ethical business practices were of "paramount importance". The company said: "That is why we work tirelessly with our suppliers and other stakeholders, including those in Bangladesh, to raise standards and to ensure the welfare of the workers that depend on the orders placed at these factories."

Primark's code: And what the workers say

Wages

Primark's code of conduct says wages would be "enough to meet basic needs and to provide discretionary income".

Workers in Bangladesh claim to be paid as little as £19.42 a month – half a "living wage" of £39.74. War on Want says they cannot afford nutritious food, decent housing or adequate healthcare

Hours

Primark's code says "workers shall not be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week" and overtime must be voluntary.

Workers say they work up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Overtime is "mandatory." The average week is 70 hours. Workers are "exhausted and malnourished"

Conditions

Primark says factories must provide a "safe and hygienic" working environment, clean toilets and potable water.

Workers say there is no safe drinking water and toilets are dirty

Abuse

The code bans physical and verbal abuse and sexual or other harassment.

Women say they suffer physical and verbal abuse for enquiring about pay and overtime.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits