Primark calls for 24-hour trading following second lockdown

Bosses of Irish fast-fashion retailer have spoken to government about extended opening hours to keep shoppers safe during Christmas rush

Jade Bremner
Friday 06 November 2020 11:34 GMT
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Primark bosses are hoping to open most of their UK stores for 24 hours after the second lockdown comes to an end.

Chief executive George Weston said the rationale behind longer opening hours is to allow customers to shop more safely during the pandemic; with fewer people in-store at any one time, social distancing would be easier for customers.

"If we are able to trade in some stores up to 24-hours a day, then we can keep people more separate from each other more easily,” he said. "We can keep the stores safer if everyone knows there are plenty of trading hours”.

The news comes after shares for the firm that owns Primark, Associated British Foods (ABF), slumped by a third during the pandemic. The company’s trade picked up after spring lockdown, when its profits took a 40 per cent dive, but ABF predicts it could lose around £375m as a result of the second lockdown. 

Long queues were seen at Primark stores across the UK after the government lifted the regulations on in-store shopping following the UK’s first lockdown. There were also long lines in the lead-up to the second lockdown. On 4 November, hundreds of customers began queuing before stores opened across the UK. Some people reportedly waited overnight to do a last-chance shop at Primark.

“Plenty of families rely on Primark’s low prices,” said shopper Marie Russell, “24-hour opening times would make it easier to get shopping done before Christmas, and before and after lockdowns” she continued.

Unlike other UK retailers, Primark does not have an online shopping operation. Weston explained that people would have more time in the day to get their shopping done. "It will give customers the confidence that there will be time for them to do their Christmas shopping on the high street between Dec 2, I hope, and the 24th.

"And it will allow my business to sell a lot of its Christmas stock. I think it would be a great step forward for the high street to be allowed extend opening hours."

Primark has come under fire from environmental activists for encouraging disposable fashion. In June 2018, the UK's Environmental Audit Committee launched an inquiry into the environmental impact of fast fashion, reporting that around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in household black bins every year and that less than 1 per cent of fabric is recycled into new clothing.

ABF spokesperson Paul Lister rejects the claim that Primark encourages the concept of fast-fashion, "Every item that we make, we're looking at durability … we are proud of the quality and durability of our garments, they're not built to throw away," he said, reported BBC.

This year, Primark was in the spotlight after a factory in Myanmar which produces some of their clothing allegedly fired 100 workers, after the workers had formed a union. The same factory reportedly transferred 200 workers from another factory to make up the numbers.

President of the union at the Rui-Ning factory, Kyaw Thu Zaw, told The Guardian: “I see the firing as clearly union-busting under the pretext of the pandemic. The factory fired most of the union members, including myself”.

In response to the claims, Primark said that all its workers are entitled join or form a union. “We are in contact with both the union and the supplier, who has entered into dialogue with the union and the ministry of labour, to determine further details,” said the spokesperson.

“Once our investigation has concluded, if a breach has been identified we will work with the supplier on remediation.”

Update 06/11: A Primark spokesperson told The Independent: “As an international retailer we recognise our responsibility to the environment and strive to minimise our impact wherever we can. We have a wide-ranging environmental sustainability programme that works across our supply chain from the sourcing of raw materials, right through production to in-store efficiencies.

"For example, in our direct operations last financial year 96 per cent of all the waste generated by our stores and warehouses was recycled, recovered, or beneficially used. The vast majority of our products are shipped by sea rather than air freight and our famous brown paper bags are made from recycled material and are also 100 per cent recyclable.”

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