Primark, a haven of mass-produced ‘fast fashion’ at rock bottom prices is no stranger to scandal. In 2013 it was revealed that it had been involved in slave labour and the exploitation of LEDC’s in order to keep their prices low. Known as the Rana Plaza tragedy, millions of men, women and even children had been found under rubble and dust, locked in an eternal embrace as their last living moments were spent working tirelessly for budget fashion brands to maintain a living wage. The response was predictable with consumers boycotting Primark because of its overt exploitation of ethnic minorities who were relying on the brand to survive. But it is not just Primark who still uses slave labour to keep prices low with brands like Mango, GAP and Forever 21 exploiting workers for the purpose of ‘fast’ financial gratification. With events like Rana Plaza still occuring today it would seem like the obvious choice to boycott non-fairtrade brands altogether yet many have criticized consumers boycotting of Primark because it affects the ‘workers rights’ and leaves them wondering where their next meal will come from. So should we ‘ boycott Primark’? Faded Spring investigates…
The first response to discovering a brand has been caught in a sweatshop scandal is of course to boycott and completely remove all associations between you and the brand but is that really the best course of action? Some critics argue that boycotting a brand only causes further issues and is more damaging to the welfare of the workers than if they were working in the sweatshop factories, dividing the fashion world into two groups: pro boycott and anti-boycott. Using the pictures of the 1,100 dead in a sea of rubble the human rights campaigners march up and down streets clutching placards that state all consumers should refuse to shop at brands like Primark that exploit their workers for cheap production and instead make informed decisions about the brands they choose to shop at. The moral compass is to outsource ethical up-market brands which require you to pay more money in exchange for a fairer wage for their employers yet is this really the case? Research has found that even designer brands like J-Crew have no policy on sustainability and were also caught in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy. Which leads us to wonder who can we trust if even the more expensive ‘so-called’ ethical brands have been exploiting their workers so that they can pocket the change?
With the uncertaintity surrounding the so-called ethical policies employed by brands to keep their consumers and workers happy it can be difficult to determine whether boycotting Primark would even make a difference to the welfare of its workers and is a dilemna that remains largely unsolved. Anti- Boycott groups have brought up the issue of a ‘free-market economy’ which means that the exploitation of workers is not neccessarily in the hands of the brands but instead enforced by politicians whose attempts to make fashion free for all lies central to the poor welfare and wellbeing of our workers. Yet is this an excuse that condones ‘free labour’ of men and women who are essentially slaves to keep us dressed in the latest fashions? As someone who has a large percentage of clothes from Primark in my wardrobe it begs me to question whether I should stop buying clothes from Primark because it is too cheap. On the other hand it has been reputed that a large majority of designer brands still use sweatshops so they can pocket the profits so what can we do?
There is one large issue with boycotting brands like Primark who use sweatshops; brands may cut the mass production or pull the plug on the factories themselves which affects the welfare and wellbeing of the workers who work tirelessly to bring home meals to their children. Which leads us to question would it not be more sensible to centralize workers rights and work with unions to convince brands to be more transparent about their sustainability? Forcing brands to highlight exactly what they do to ‘help’ workers will mean that we can make informed decisions about what brand we choose to clothe ourselves in and then gradually improve the working conditions of the workers so that they may have a better quality of life. But that does not answer whether we should boycott Primark and the answer is simple- no.
I say no because millions of jobs will be cut and this is an epidemic that is pivotal to many fashion brands we know and love, not just Primark. Even designer brands have been caught red handed which is why we must research fair trade policies and show brands that unless they tell or show us what working conditions their workers are working in we can no longer accept their reliability as a brand and we all know what happens when a brand loses credibility. It gets shut down and that is something that we must prevent from happening in order to protect the rights of those workers.
Should We Boycott Primark? What Are Your Thoughts?
Photography: Jumanna Khanom
Blouse & Shoes: Primark