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Primark bids to ride out child labour storm storm

Industry experts believe that value fashion chain Primark has moved quickly enough to avoid a consumer backlash against it after the BBC found some of its factories had sub-contracted work out to children.

Earlier this week Primark said it had axed three of its suppliers in southern India after they were found to have sub-contracted some embroidery work out to home workers, and in some instances children.

Primark immediately issued a statement and launched a website explaining its ethical stance with videos and Q&As at www.ethicalprimark.co.uk. Primark also called its suppliers to meetings where it will re-emphasise its code of practice.

Rita Clifton, chairman of global branding consultancy Interbrand, said: “Only a minimal number of consumers choose one brand over another on sustainability. The embarrassment factor has accelerated over these issues in the past couple of years, but you’ve got to do something pretty bad before people actually stop shopping with you.”

She added: “There is a bit of a public debate about cheap clothes not being sustainable, but really consumers just want to feel OK about buying somewhere and Primark has moved quickly to manage opinion.”

Some sources expressed concern that Primark’s expansion into Europe may be hit by the revelations. However, industry experts said European consumers lagged behind the UK in terms of understanding and interest in ethical issues.

International retail consultancy Management Horizons chairman, George Wallace, said: “There is a high level of interest in the UK and Germany, but outside of that – places such as Holland – retailers can’t get consumers interested in the ethical debate. It’s almost fortunate for Primark that shoppers are tightening up on their spending and the ethical issue is taking a backseat. It is better that this has happened now rather than 18 months ago when ethics were top of the agenda.”

One supplier added: “Mrs Bloggs on the street is not going to boycott Primark. People still want to go in there and buy a pack of socks for £1.”

The BBC will air a Panorama programme about Primark and its suppliers on Monday att 9pm.

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