Any retailer announcing a 55% growth in interim profits is going to attract attention.
Any retailer announcing a 55% growth in interim profits is going to attract attention. In the case of Primark, such news is likely to be viewed through a kaleidoscope of ethical reproaches and justifications.
However, this time, events in Bangladesh seem like a metaphysical finger reaching down to underline such considerations, with the blood of those who died in the horrific garment factory collapse in Savar.
I’ve never made secret my distaste for Primark’s business model, or that of any company selling goods at prices that, in my view, can only be maintained through questionable sourcing strategies. However, I’m also aware that the moral high ground I stand on is not as firm as I’d like it to be.
I can’t say I’ve never bought anything I knew was cheaper than it should be, nor that everything I’ve ever sold as a retailer had an impeccable ethical pedigree.
That’s really my point. We’re all, often unavoidably, drawn into the conspiracy that buries these misgivings under the exigencies of modern commerce.
It’s not so long ago that factories in the UK were just as poorly run and constructed as the one in Savar. It’s been a long road to achieving the rights and safeguards we all take for granted today, and it’s just those entitlements that drove manufacturing abroad into less regulated economies.
As working conditions improve in such countries, UK manufacturers have experienced a tentative renaissance, with some retailers actively sourcing British-made goods.
That’s great news for UK industry while ensuring a better moral provenance for the things we buy and sell. But it also points to increasing pressure on value-driven retailers to find ever cheaper sources for their wares.
While Primark and others investigate their involvement in the Bangladesh disaster, it still remains to be seen if they’ll indulge in anything more than an ethical box-ticking exercise.
But then, perhaps it takes events like these to prompt real and lasting changes to the brand values of such companies and, maybe more importantly, to the consumer expectations that drive them.
- Ian Middleton, Managing director and co-founder, Argenteus
Primark 'deeply shocked' by fatal Bangladesh building collapse
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Comment: Will ethics be reviewed following Bangladesh disaster?