The news of the BBC Trust’s apology to Primark over fabricated footage in the Panorama programme about child labour in the retailer’s supply chain gave rise to some heated debate among the Verdict analysts - as happened more widely.
Those agreeing with the decision were thought to be fascists, and those believing the claims were true - because fabrication had not been proven - were referred to as left wing Guardianistas (a description reinforced by The Guardian finding the decision “baffling”).
Having read the BBC Trust’s 51-page report, I found it baffling that the journalist could not prove the footage was authentic and neither he, nor the editorial team, were willing to be interviewed by the Trust’s committee in person.
Whoever’s version you believe - and no matter that it defies logic that a publicly quoted company could build an international business based on child exploitation - some of the general public will still believe that Primark is cheap because it exploits workers and uses child labour.
And what is worrying about the ethics of the British public is that it did not stop them buying from Primark even when this was supposed to be the case. What this episode highlights is the risks, and rewards, of sourcing internationally.
The latter are evident in Brandix’s new factory in a Tamil area, demonstrating how clothing manufacturing can provide the foundation for a growing economy and educated workforce.
However, as prices rise in commodities, transport and wages, and the pound remains weak, moving production back to Europe is becoming attractive, and unfortunately this could have devastating effects on the livelihoods of workers in countries like India.
I have sympathy for Primark. Because of its low prices, driven by low costs and high volumes, it has become the prime target for the media while higher priced retailers escape scrutiny. I also have to declare an interest; Primark was a generous sponsor to a Unicef fundraising event I was involved in, so I can hear you all saying ‘Well she would say that wouldn’t she?’