Last week Primark promised to fund wages of factory makers during the Covid-19 pandemic — and while at a first glance the Primark relief fund may appear to be a step in the right direction, the impact of this effort is likely to prove underwhelming. Primark has withheld payment on over $273 million worth of orders in Bangladesh in wake of the coronavirus, the most of any withheld payments reported in the country.
The announcement for the fund came from Primark as human rights organizations and NGOs—including Remake—urged major brands in the fashion industry to ensure timely and complete payments to suppliers amidst a flurry of cancellations during the coronavirus pandemic. So what’s so bad about the fund Primark has set up?
Primark has yet to publicly detail the specifics of these wage payments, remaining mum about how much funding is available, how stimulus packages may impact it, and when it will be dispersed.
When asked for a comment, Primark responded to Remake with the following:
“In terms of the timeframe and the mechanism, we are still working through all the details, but it is our priority to make sure the workers get these wages as soon as is practically possible.”
In addition to this, a generic press release was attached to the email, sharing no specific details about the fund or the mechanics of it.
“If, before the crisis, we had asked Primark to pay workers when a supplier failed to do so, they would have said…no, the supplier pays,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium. Nova noted that organizations were not provided with any plan on how the fund would work. “The logistics and practicalities regarding how workers would get paid is quite complicated….We have very little reason to believe that workers will receive any money.”
Additionally, in Primark’s proposal, the company states that payments to workers will be adjusted by government support packages. However, is it fair to include the government stimulus package in calculating wages already owed to garment makers for orders they’ve produced?
The makers completed their job requirements; they sewed the dresses, the shirts, the skirts…the fashion. The suppliers fulfilled their production demands. Yet, Primark is refusing to accept the orders and pay what’s due, instead promising a Primark relief fund in exchange for what is owed to these makers.
“Primark should be standing by its Bangladesh suppliers during the COVID-19 crisis, not cancelling orders and deducting government stimulus from supplier compensation or worker payments,” said Tim Ryan, Asia regional program director for Solidarity Center. “Primark should be mandating paid leave for workers during the government lockdown, providing suppliers with funds to provide safety equipment and protective gear for workers once factories re-open, and ensure that workers throughout their supply chain will have any COVID-19 related healthcare costs covered. This is a time for corporate leadership, not cost cutting that puts thousands of workers lives and their communities at risk.”
So what has Primark really done? Promised charity in place of good business, perhaps. While the announcement of a fund may have been able to pick up some good press for the fast fashion apparel company, it’s certainly doing very little to actually help the garment makers who are becoming food and housing insecure in Bangladesh.
The amount of money that garment makers will be able to receive from Primark’s fund is likely fractional in comparison to how much money is being withheld by the brand on cancelled and paused orders.
“Suppliers stand to lose millions if Primark does not pay for the garments it ordered. Paying a comparative pittance to workers, even if Primark follows through, won’t save these suppliers from bankruptcy and won’t save workers’ jobs,” said Nova. “This will cause workers to lose their jobs, because it will force suppliers out of business.”
And the devastation of this act isn’t just short-term. When stores reopen, sales increase, and the current stock of goods starts to dwindle, there could be no factories left to fulfill the orders that Primark needs for its stores. As a result of the low wages long paid to garment makers in Bangladesh and abroad, the supply chain is a delicate one — abandoning these makers now risks millions of deaths worldwide. Primark should not be offering charitable funds to its makers in exchange for honest business — it should be providing payments for the orders these women have already made. The Primark relief fund isn’t this.
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Images: DennisM2, Matthew Jackson/Flickr
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