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Primark acts on unethical suppliers

Value fashion retailer Primark has appointed Katherine Kirk to the newly created role of ethical trading director, as it battles to shake off the negative publicity surrounding its supply chain in recent months.

Kirk joins from Gap, where she is understood to have headed up accessories. It is the first time Primark has employed a permanent, full-time director of ethical trade. The retailer is also understood to be creating several other ethical trading positions to be based on the ground in its major sourcing countries including China and India.

The appointment follows a series of scandals surrounding Primark’s suppliers. Two BBC investigations in less than a year questioned the practices of some of its suppliers, accusing Indian factories of sub-contracting work to children and a Manchester factory of exploiting workers and employing illegal immigrants. Both investigations were widely trailed in the national press and prompted trade body the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which Primark is a member, to probe the retailer’s practices.

Primark’s owner, Associated British Foods, has also bought into a database system that will enable it to tap into a vast global supplier list to help it monitor ethical practices in its factories. The system, Entropy Software from BSI Management Systems, makes details about the ethical policies and ethical records of suppliers across the world available at the touch of a button.

One of the challenges faced by large high street retailers in maintaining ethical standards is the size and complexity of supply chains. Primark is believed to have more than 800 suppliers, of which it currently regularly audits about half of them.

Associated British Foods business analyst Ray Ellis said: “This is a demonstration of Primark’s commitment to improve working conditions while maintaining competitive edge and quality in a fast-moving fashion environment.”

The ETI confirmed to Drapers this week that it was still investigating Primark’s practices.

So far shoppers have not been turned off by the negative publicity about Primark’s suppliers. The value fashion chain’s like-for-like sales rose by 5% for the first half to February 28.

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