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No hiding place for slaves as Primark maps its suppliers

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 7 February 2018 17:17 GMT

"We want to challenge the wrongly held perception that price and ethics are entwined"

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Feb 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cut-price fashion chain Primark published details on Wednesday of factories in its supply chain to prove it had nothing to hide in its push to sell products that are free of slave labour.

The budget retailer, which has 350 stores across Britain, Europe and the United States, has published an online map showing more than 600 suppliers' factories in 30-odd countries, including information about the number and gender of workers.

"We are opening up about our suppliers to boost transparency and visibility in our supply chain," Primark's head of ethical trade, Katharine Stewart, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A growing number of big brands, from sportswear giant Adidas to fashion retailers H&M and ASOS, are sharing information about their supply chains amid mounting regulatory and consumer pressure on companies to ensure their products are slavery-free. Supply chains are often complex as a product is manufactured, packaged and distributed in a process linking multiple suppliers in many countries, making it difficult to spot forced labour.

About 25 million people worldwide were estimated to be trapped in forced labour in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.

"Primark joins the select but growing group of leading companies that disclose details of their supplier factories," said Peter McAllister of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).

"It is one more step in meeting consumer expectations and we hope that other brands and retailers will follow this example," said the executive director of the ETI, a global alliance of trade unions, firms and charities promoting worker rights.

Primark had previously withheld the factory breakdown, saying it gave the high-street chain a commercial edge.

But the company said it had decided to divulge the details as most of its suppliers were also contracted by rival companies, many of which had already made the details public.

Following accusations it used "sweatshops" and "modern-day slaves" to produce clothes sold for just a few pounds, Primark says it has ramped up efforts to tackle the risk of forced labour, with worker hotlines and a rise in audits.

The retailer keeps down costs by spending very little on advertising and buying materials in bulk, Stewart said.

"We want to challenge the wrongly held perception that price and ethics are entwined," she said. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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