It wasn’t long ago that Primark found itself mired in controversy after three of its Indian suppliers were caught using child labour. Now it’s in hot water again after the Observer reported that TNS Knitwear, a Manchester-based supplier that apparently provides Primark with about 20,000 garments a week, was not only employing illegal immigrants, but also paying them well below than the minimum wage. Failing to spot a supplier using sweatshop practices several thousand miles is one thing – but in Manchester?
The Observer (along with the BBC) is accusing TNS Knitwear of employing Pakistani, Afghan and Indian staff to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in some cases for a measly £3 per hour. That’s £2.73 below the minimum wage (although we suppose that if you’re going to flout the law blatantly by employing illegals, it might seem a bit pointless to be fastidious about their hourly rate). If it’s true – and TNS is denying it furiously, despite the paper claiming to have the people involved on tape – the supplier could be hit with big fines, not to mention possible legal charges.
For its own part, Primark said it was ‘extremely concerned’ by the allegations (no kidding), and that it had launched its own investigation. And it might well also be a victim here: the suggestion seems to be that Primark’s own auditors were deliberately misled the last time they came to give TNS Knitwear the once-over (back in December). Nonetheless, the damage to Primark’s brand may be substantial. Stories like this will only serve to make more people think that there must be some dubious explanation for the chain’s ridiculously low prices.
The retailer has already fallen foul of Ethical Trading Initiative, which appears to have issued a condemnation as soon as the paper hit the newsstands. The trade body, which promotes good working conditions among retail suppliers, said it was ‘horrified’ by the allegations and insisted that Primark immediately remove all references to it on its shop fronts. Obviously ETI’s own ethical code doesn’t stretch to ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – and we suspect it probably won’t be the only one...
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