Protests at Primark
May 5, 2009 by amucklow
The new Primark in Tooting, London caused a stir at it’s opening on Saturday 2nd May 2009.
Campaigners protested over poverty wages for garment workers as Britain’s most popular cheap fashion retailer, Primark, opened a huge new two-floor store in London. Forewarned of the planned protests Primark actually opened in a hurry the day before. Activists, including teenagers, from the fair trade fashion company People Tree and anti-poverty charity War on Want handed out leaflets to shoppers, calling for a living wage and an end to the exploitation of garment workers making clothes for Primark.
They also demanded the British government regulation to stop the retailer abusing its suppliers. The protestors will also attempted to hand in a letter for Primark’s new ethical trading director, Katherine Kirk, at the south London store in Tooting but no one from the company attended to receive it.
Primark has moved to the former Marks and Spencer branch from a single-floor local shop. Tooting MP Sadiq Khan said: “I am a strong supporter of ethical trading and have been campaigning locally to promote Fair-trade and to make Wandsworth into a Fair-trade Borough. This week I met with Safia Minney, CEO of People Tree to discuss her concerns about Primark and action that the government could be taking. I have read War on Want’s excellently researched report, ‘Fashion Victims II’, which shows that factory employees are still being exploited and are in an even worse financial position than before. Working conditions such as the ones described in the report would definitely not be accepted here. We need to remind everyone that whatever the geographical difference between us and the factory workers who make our clothes, these are real people who just like us need jobs that pay enough to buy at least the basics in life, food, shelter, healthcare and education.”
Last week Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods, announced a 10 per cent rise in profits to £122 million for the retailer during the last six months, after £233 million profits during the 12 months ending in September. The protestors cited Primark’s code of conduct which says living wages are paid, working hours are not excessive, no harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed and freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected.
In December the charity’s research, Fashion Victims II, cited workers producing clothes for Primark in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka earning as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks. Some employees received only the minimum wage, £13.97 (1663 taka) a month, far less than the £44.82 (5333 taka) needed for nutritious food, clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport. The average workers’ pay, £19.16 (2280 taka) a month, represented less than half a living wage. Amid food and fuel inflation, employees’ living standards had fallen since they were interviewed two years earlier. The vast majority of employees lived in small, crowded shacks, many of which lack plumbing and adequate washing facilities. Though forced overtime is illegal in Bangladesh, employees said they were made to toil extra hours, often unpaid. Workers complained that in the fast fashion rush to produce the latest styles, many of them suffered verbal and physical abuse as they struggled to meet unrealistic targets. Yet the Dhaka workers said none of their factories was unionised.
Safia Minney, the chief executive officer of People Tree who lives in Beaches Road, Tooting, said at the protest: “Despite Primark’s huge increase in profits, workers living conditions are worse than two years ago and they are having to deal with a huge increase in food costs. Fast, cheap fashion has flooded the UK high street but garment workers are not able to fill their stomachs however many bags of fast fashion we buy – that’s the true cost of fast fashion. Consumers can be part of the solution in supporting better practice and Fair Trade fashion.”
Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “Primark is raking in profits and expanding with new stores like Tooting by selling clothes which are so cheap because the people who produce them earn so little. The retailer has failed for years to match its claim to pay a living wage with real action. Now the British government must bring in effective regulation to halt this abuse.”