Primark launches range of £6 period underwear - but is it really a sustainable option?

‘Just because they are reusable, it doesn’t mean they are sustainable’, charity says. Saman Javed asks if they are really a good option

Thursday 20 May 2021 15:45 BST
Primark releases new range of period underwear
Primark releases new range of period underwear (Primark)

Primark has launched a 17-piece line of period underwear starting at six pounds. The company says each pair of pants, which are significantly cheaper than many other options on the market, can hold the equivalent of up to four tampons worth of blood.

Announcing the launch earlier this week, Primark’s product director, Paula Dumont Lopez said the range had been developed to provide “the option to have a more sustainable period” and because “period products should be accessible to anyone”.

“At Primark, we believe that period products should be accessible to anyone who needs them, and we are delighted to be the first high street retailer to offer period underwear at this price point.

“Our period underwear gives our customers an alternative to other period products which often end up in landfill. We want to give our customers the option to have a more sustainable period and to help them be kinder to the environment,” Lopez said.

The range was praised by users on social media for its low price point, with one person writing: “Guys this is amazing...I always wanted to try period underwear and was put off by the price, but this is amazing.. well done to all in @Primark” and another saying “I just want to thank @Primark for bringing out affordable period pants. My uterus is happy”.

But workers’ rights and period poverty charities have questioned the claims that the option is more sustainable and claim that the pants will not positively contribute to ending period poverty around the world and in the UK.

Meg Lewis, campaign director at Labour Behind The Label told The Independent it is good to see a range of affordable, reusable menstruation options, “however period poverty is not just an issue in the UK, it is a global issue”.

If Primark truly wants to tackle period poverty, it should do more than launching new products

“Primark produces their clothes in countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Many garment workers can barely afford the basic necessities to support their families. Too often, period products which are a basic necessity, become a luxury that garment workers earning poverty wages cannot afford,” she said. “Garment workers often work gruelling hours with limited toilet breaks and poor sanitation facilities in the factories. This means that during menstruation, workers can struggle to respond to their physical needs.”

Previous reports have stated that because Primark does not own its factories and outsources its manufacturing, it has little control over its supply chain, responsibility for factory workers and knowledge of labour issues.

But Primark told The Independent it is “committed to protecting the rights” of the people who make its products and providing safe, hygienic working conditions and that it is “very selective” about the suppliers’ factories it works with, only working with those that agree to meet “rigorous, internationally-recognised standards”.

It also said it was involved in two initiatives aimed specifically at supporting women in its supply chain; HERhealth, which provides education on hygiene, health and nutrition, and Sudokkho, a programme designed to upskill workers.

But Lewis said if Primark “truly wants to tackle period poverty, it should do more than launching new products”. “They must look at their responsibilities to their own workers, and make sure that factories are safe and hygienic and that workers have access to regular breaks.”

Gabby Edlin, founder of Bloody Good Period, a charity that provides sustainable period products to those who can’t afford them, said she thinks it is “really important” that Primark’s line is not seen as a step toward ending period poverty and should be seen as a marketing move instead.

In her opinion, “Primark isn’t taking a stance against period poverty. What Primark are doing here is taking advantage of the work that we do as charities against period poverty,” said Edlin. “Ending period poverty is far more than just these products being made cheaper.”

What Primark are doing here is taking advantage of the work that we do as charities against period poverty

Edlin said that in her opinion the line puts Primark customers, who want to buy a sustainable product but can’t afford to, “in a bind”. “Just because they are reusable, it doesn’t mean they are sustainable. Because if they aren’t taking into account the workers who created them, I wouldn’t call that sustainable.

“They’ve spied a gap in the market. They are just recreating a product that has been made very carefully by sustainable brands for quite some time. The reason they haven’t been made available cheaper before is because they do cost more than £6 to make [in a sustainable way],” she said.

Primark said it believes introducing period pants at low prices will help make them more accessible “to anyone who wants to use a more sustainable alternative”.

The brand said it is “just one small step” in its ongoing journey towards making its business “fair and more environmentally sustainable, from the sourcing of raw materials right through to the finished products we sell”.

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth said most disposable period products are packed with plastics, therefore “anything that can help to reduce the amount of it going to landfill is a win for the environment”.

“But Primark has a long way to go before earning green credentials, and one reusable clothing line won’t address the bigger issue of fast fashion,” Camilla Zerr, plastics campaigner said. “The clothes on our high street are often made with synthetic plastic fibres, and rarely recycled, which has costs far too great for the environment, and the people who make them too.”

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