If ever there was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, it’s that of Primark and the child labour story uncovered this week.
Having been tipped off by the BBC, which was researching a forthcoming Panorama documentary, that three of its Indian factories were sub-contracting some production to home workers – some of whom were children – the retailer immediately severed ties with the offending suppliers.
To some, this was seen as a wise move and Primark was even praised in some quarters for taking decisive action. To others, and in particular Labour Behind the Label, it was nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to some uncomfortable facts uncovered by journalists. The right thing to do, according to the workers’ rights group, would have been to stick with the factories and try to effect a change for the better.
True, in the long term that may have been the more productive course of action and the harder route to take, but Primark wouldn’t be the only retailer to have a cut and run policy when it comes to child labour.
There are others who will tell you that they are prepared to give suppliers another chance on almost any other transgression of an ethical code, but not that one. If Primark did stick with these suppliers there is no doubt it would have been accused of fuelling the exploitation of children. So which way was the best to go?
I don’t have the answer. But it is a question that several other retailers may find themselves facing in the coming months, as more journalists than ever focus on this issue and many more head to China shortly to cover the Olympics and any other juicy stories they may find there.