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Letter to Primark's Ethical Trading Director

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On 2nd May 2009 People Tree, The People Tree Foundation and War on Want invited Katherine Kirk, Ethical Trading Director at Primark to meet at the opening of their new store in Tooting to recieve the below letter. Unfortunately Ms Kirk did not respond or send a representative. People Tree will resend this letter and would like as many people as possible to add their name to it. We need to show Ms Kirk just how many people are feeling increasingly uncomfortable and want to be part of the solution in solving poverty and environmental problems. Katherine Kirk Ethical Trading Director Primark Stores Limited Primark House 41 West Street Reading RG1 1TT Dear Ms Kirk, War on Want and People Tree have previously raised concerns about the exploitation of garment workers who make clothes for Primark. We refer most recently to the publication of reports by War on Want such as Fashion Victims II and Fashion Victims. We work closely with our partners in Bangladesh to improve the livelihood of garment workers and to help them fight for their rights as workers, so we are well aware of the conditions facing garment workers. On your website ethicalprimark.com you make various claims about garment workers’ pay and conditions. In particular you make reference to a code of conduct covering the pay and working conditions of garment workers that you expect suppliers to adhere to and that is independently audited for Primark. Unfortunately according to evidence from our partners in Bangladesh and research that War on Want has published it is clear that garment factories supplying Primark are not adhering to the code of conduct and continue to exploit garment workers. This is occurring against a background of the global financial crisis and rising food prices which is driving garment workers even deeper into poverty. Below are some of the claims made by Primark and what the evidence shows. Primark says "living wages are paid." A living wage is defined as what a garment worker needs to provide themselves and their family with nutritious food, clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport. Garment workers in Bangladesh making clothes for Primark interviewed for War on Want Fashion Victims II published in December, calculated that a living wage for a garment worker and family should be around 5333 taka (£44.82) a month. Yet employees in the factories surveyed were paid on average 2280 taka (£19.16), less than half this figure. Some workers received only the minimum wage, 1663 taka (£13.97) a month. Many workers are struggling to feed their families with the price of even basic foods, such as rice rising 70% since workers were last surveyed in 2006. Primark says "working hours are not excessive." Garment workers typically work very long hours because of the low pay and are often forced to work overtime to meet sudden orders at short notice. Evidence provided from garment workers supplying Primark for Fashion Victims II, found workers toiling 10-14 hours a day up to 80 hours a week. Forced overtime is illegal in Bangladesh although employees said they were made to toil extra hours, often unpaid to make up orders. Primark says "no harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed." We frequently have found workers complaining that many of them suffered verbal and physical abuse as they struggled to meet unrealistic targets. It is not usual to hear of workers being beaten or verbally abused for not producing enough clothes in an hour. More than 60% of female workers interviewed for the Fashion Victims II report suffered from obscene and sexual language in the workplace, while some reported instances of sexual abuse. Primark says "freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected." It’s crucial that workers are aware of their rights and are able to organise and form trade unions to represent workers and campaign for decent pay and conditions. However none of the factories we surveyed for Fashion Victims II were unionised and many workers were unaware their rights to form a trade union. Workers complained that those who had tried to organise or form a trade union were often threatened and intimidated. Since 2008 around 200 garment factories have been involved in violations over labour rights and suppression of garment workers voices. The exploitation of garment workers is occurring while Primark has accumulated significant profits. Primark’s latest financial results last month showed a 10 per cent rise in profits of £122 million during the last six months – facilitating expansion, such as the new Tooting store – on the back of profits last year of £223 million. However, far from sharing this success, the Bangladeshi garment workers interviewed are worse off. What is clear is that Primark’s aggressive purchasing practices are contributing towards the poor working conditions for garment workers and the lack of a living wage. While ethical codes of practice can help establish clear guidelines for improving labour practices, this is no substitute for regulation and proper oversight to protect vulnerable workers. This is why People Tree and War on Want are demanding the British government introduce regulation which ensures a living wage for garment workers and enables those exploited workers to seek redress in the UK. I would like to arrange a meeting with you to begin a positive dialogue and identify ways we may be able to help you improve things on the ground. I look forward to your reply. Yours sincerely Safia Minney CEO People Tree & People Tree Foundation

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People Tree - sustainable and Fair Trade fashion People Tree Foundation - bringing benefits to an even greater number of farmers and artisans through scaling up training, technical support and environmental initiatives and through raising awareness and campaigning for fair and sustainable fashion. War on Want - fighting poverty in developing countries in partnership with people affected by globalisation. We campaign for human rights and against the root causes of global poverty, inequality and injustice.

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www.peopletree.co.uk www.peopletreefoundation.org www.waronwant.org
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