It just goes to show what a hot potato the ethical production of clothes is when an episode of the BBC’s Panaroma, which dealt with the subject, pulled in 4.2 million viewers at 9pm on a Monday night.
And if that’s what the programme was about, then I would have found it far more interesting. Instead it seemed intent on castigating one company, Primark, some of whose garments were found to have been finished by children after being outsourced from some of its Indian factories (without the firm’s knowledge) to home workers. Of course, Primark’s super-low prices make them an easy target. But what their super low-prices don’t necessarily mean is that their manufacturing processes are worse than anyone else’s.
Although it was a great piece of documentary making, it would have been a more balanced programme had it made the point that this is an industry-wide problem, instead of quite pointedly not mentioning the names of other companies whose clothes were also found to be being produced in the same conditions.
But then Primark didn’t help itself by first denying the garments in questions were theirs and then not appearing in the show to respond to the findings. This left the BBC to dredge up an ancient video of chairman Arthur Ryan saying that all he was interested in was making money.
That said, I was pleased the programme concluded that working with the factories to help improve standards, rather than a boycott of Indian-produced clothes, was the right response. Boycotting could lead to worsening conditions and workers losing their jobs. Just as many poor staff in the factories from which Primark has now pulled its production presumably have.