Primark has organised a press conference on their ongoing work in Bangladesh and
its response to Rana Plaza tragedy. The press conference was held in Bombay
Restaurant in West London on 19 January. The Press briefing was conducted by the
Ethical Trading Director of Primark Katherine Stewart and chaired by Paul Lister,
Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary of Associated British Foods, who
is also responsible for corporate governance and ethics across ABF companies,
heading up the Primark Ethical Trading Team of 55. Mohammed Ismail, the Ethical
Trade Manager of Primark was also present in the meeting.
The written press release which read that read Primark has been sourcing out of
Bangladesh for some twenty years. Today, Primark have around 80 factories
making a range of garments for it. All suppliers who want to work for Primark
have to meet our ethical trading requirements and have to sign up to the
Primark Code of Conduct. Every supplier has to pass an audit before we will
place orders with them. Once a supplier contracts with Primark, we put in
place a programme of regular audits and we expect to be in close contact with
them. In many cases, we also put in place training programmes for factory
management and for the workers.
This work is undertaken by the Primark Ethical Trading Team in Bangladesh,
which currently numbers 9 (the global team is around 50). Their job is to
monitor standards in factories, identify issues, work with suppliers to resolve
issues and to provide the training. They also work with the local communities
where factories are based. To do this effectively, they have built up
relationships with a wide range of groups in Bangladesh. This includes NGOs,
charities and unions such as Sheva and GIZ.
At the time of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Primark was sourcing trousers
from the New Wave Bottoms factory which was on the second floor of the
Rana Plaza factory. The factory had undergone all the standard ethical checks,
but at the time, this did not include structural surveys to check the soundness
of the building. Much of the focus at the time was on fire prevention, following
a number of fatal factory fires in Bangladesh.
The collapse and immediate aftermath
All of us at Associated British Foods and Primark were shocked and deeply
saddened when the Rana Plaza building, near Dhaka in Bangladesh, collapsed
on 24th April 2013, killing 1,138 people. The building housed several factories,
including New Wave Bottoms.
Primark was the first brand, as far as we are aware, to acknowledge it had a
supplier in the Rana Plaza building and to pledge that it would meet its
responsibilities to the people affected by the disaster. Primark’s supplier was
one factory among many in the huge building, which supplied clothing to 28
In total Primark has committed $14m to the victims of Rana Plaza. This has
included $2 million in providing food and short-term financial support.
Immediately after the collapse of the building, the Primark Ethical Trade
Director flew out to Bangladesh to do a report to see what was needed and
how Primark could support the New Wave Bottoms workers. Her remit was to
do whatever she felt was the right thing to do.
The first thing she did was to meet with all the partners Primark was already
working with, including Sheva, GIZ, NUK and DFID, to find out what would be
the most effective support the Company could provide.
As a result, we set up helpdesks near the factory site so that we could identify
victims and assess the immediate needs of workers and their families. We gave
emergency food parcels to over 1265 households for five weeks in partnership
with a local NGO. Each package contained enough dry food for a family of four
for one week, and included rice, dal, potatoes, biscuits, tea, oil, sugar, and salt.
We provided short-term financial assistance equivalent to nine months’ salary
for 3639 workers and their families – not just the 663 that worked in the
factory that supplied Primark. We called on other brands that were using the
factories in Rana Plaza to come forward and make similar donations.
To ensure that any funds we gave workers would be safe, each worker was
able to open a bank account at one of several worker registration events that
we held in Bangladesh. We also visited workers in hospital to open accounts
for them there.
In March 2014, Primark announced that it would begin paying out long-term
compensation of $9.0m to workers (or their families) at New Wave Bottoms
who died or were injured, as a result of the Rana Plaza building collapse. This
figure has now risen to $11m as further workers have been identified through
work with the International Labour Organisation. Primark also announced
donation of another $1.0m into the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund for the other
victims of Rana Plaza, who worked for Primark’s competitors.
Primark worked with local partners in Bangladesh from the time of the disaster
to establish a rigorous compensation scheme, as there was no existing scheme
or methodology in place. This took around a year to do and we worked with
academics, insurance companies and Bangladeshi organisations, including the
University of Dhaka. It involved collecting the details of everyone who worked
in the entire Rana Plaza building – most of whom worked for suppliers to other
brands – which was a huge logistical exercise. This included holding events, five
in total, which registered over 3000 people. It also involved devising an
actuarial model and creating an approach to medical and vulnerability
assessments, so that payments could be awarded according to these
We have subsequently shared all our methodology with the International
Labour Organisation, in the hope that it can be of use in other industrial
accidents elsewhere in the world.
For those receiving by their standards, very large amounts of money in
compensation , Primark held a series of meetings, or what we called the Mela.
Both victims and their families were invited to attend the Mela, which ran over
ten days. The aim was to provide individual advice on investment and to work
out and then provide ways of protecting those who are especially vulnerable. 3
Our work with the victims of Rana Plaza continues today. This includes
monitoring the general welfare and education of children until they are 18
years old and continuing to monitor vulnerable adults until the end of 2015.
Improving worker safety
As importantly, we have been working to make sure this type of disaster does
not happen again. Prior to the Rana Plaza building collapse, our audit
programme did not inspect building structures. This has now changed. Primark
has become a signatory to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in
Bangladesh, which is a contract between over 190 apparel brands and
retailers, international and local trade unions and NGOs, which is carrying out
factory building inspections and working to improve working conditions in the
Bangladesh garment industry. Primark also carried out building surveys in
Bangladesh to assess the structural integrity of the approximately 80 factories
from which we source garments. These were undertaken in addition to the
Accord surveys, as we decided we wanted to undertake these surveys as
quickly as possible. This will be extended to other countries shortly.
The Primark ethical sourcing team in Bangladesh
All the efforts undertaken since the collapse of Rana Plaza would not have
possible without the Primark ethical sourcing team in Bangladesh. Although
the nine of them were employed originally as factory auditors, they threw
themselves into the task of helping where they could. They are practical, had
great networks and were determined to make a difference. They were the
people who saw the needs and implemented the solutions.