British retail giant Primark has suspended business ties with some garment factories in Bangladesh, which had terminated 427 workers for their alleged involvement in agitations during December 2018 and January 2019 demanding a wage hike.
“We have been working hard for many years to ensure that our products are made with great care and respect for workers’ rights,” Primark said in response to a query made through an email.
“This is why we have been conducting in-depth investigations into a small number of our suppliers’ factories in Bangladesh where there were allegations that workers’ contracts had been terminated.”
“The factories under investigation remain suspended during this process, meaning no new orders can be placed. Our investigations found some breaches of the Primark Code of Conduct, which are now being remediated.”
“This includes remunerating any affected workers the compensation they are legally entitled to, confirmation of the withdrawal of legal proceedings against workers and engaging our suppliers’ factories in workplace remediation programmes.”
“We have also shared our findings with other stakeholders, as we believe collaboration with key partners, including the Ethical Trading Initiative and the BGMEA, is critical in order to bring about effective industry-wide change.”
“Primark remains committed to ensuring workers’ right are upheld and protected, and we welcome the BGMEA’s independent inquiry into this issue.”
Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA, said the association held a meeting with leaders of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, a platform working on workers’ rights, on July 31 urging to provide names, designations and other details of the sacked workers.
She had sought the same in a letter afterwards.
The key issues are that Primark wants withdrawal of cases filed against the workers and clearing all legal dues, explained a senior official of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) asking not to be named.
Online magazine Just-Style in a recent report said of the 427 workers whose jobs were terminated, 382 were facing legal charges filed by the factory owners.
The official, however, could not state the exact number of factories involved in the suspension.
“…impact (of the suspension) is possibly not huge. Primark has many vendors in Bangladesh. Reported deviations are not huge at all. Deviations should not determine a brand’s sourcing pattern or trend,” the official added.
“Primark does not own any factories. In fact, 98 percent of the factories making products for Primark also manufacture for other brands. We are very selective about who we work with,” said the retailer in its code of conduct statement.
“To make it onto Primark’s approved factory list, each factory is vetted to internationally-recognised standards set out in the Primark Code of Conduct and must commit to meeting the Code as a condition of doing business with us.”
“There is no forced or compulsory labour in any form, including bonded, trafficked, or prison labour. Workers are not required to lodge ‘deposits’ or their identity papers with their employer and are free to leave their employer after reasonable notice.”
“Workers, without distinction, have the right to join or form trade unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively. The employer adopts an open attitude towards the activities of trade unions and their organisational activities.”
“Workers representatives are not discriminated against and have access to carry out their representative functions in the workplace.”
“Where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is restricted under law, the employer facilitates, and does not hinder, the development of parallel means for independent and free association and bargaining.”
Primark annually purchases nearly $1 billion worth of garment items from Bangladesh. One of its sources was New Wave Bottoms, a factory housed inside Rana Plaza which collapsed in April 2013 killing over 1,135 workers.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation said Primark’s move would not have any big impact on Bangladesh’s garment business.
Primark may place the withdrawn work orders to other local garment factories, meaning they were not shifting the orders to other countries, she said.