Ethics, What Ethics?

The BBC Trust ruled that the footage on the Panorama programme showing small children working on clothing for Primark in Banglore in June 2008 was not authentic. The programme highlighted how Primark’s own ethical guidelines were being broken with its suppliers outsourcing to home workers and smaller factories who were using small children.


However, some of the journalists concerned, including Guardian media correspondence Roy Greensdale, are outraged and are concerned that this ruling has been made on inconclusive evidence.

Despite sending an extensive inquiry into the reporting of the programme and sending another journalist, the BBC Trust are not 100% certain that the footage isn’t real. Even so, they have still ruled in favour of Primark on the “balance of probabilities” – that because the footage only showed these vests then it must have been faked.

Primark have already admitted and sacked four of its suppliers following the documentary but claimed that the 45 seconds of footage in a Banglore workshop, “testing” Primark brown vest tops to make sure that sequins would not fall off, was set up. Primark have of course welcomed the ruling as they feel that many people were deceived by the programme from customers, suppliers, retailers, and teachers.

Having been involved in ethical fashion for over ten years now, my thoughts are this. In the industry, Primark have been notorious for unethical practices despite having ethical guidelines. Their factories have had monitoring issues, employment issues and child labour issues and it has taken a documentary such as this Panorama programme to initiate action from Primark to try and eradicate these problems. 45 seconds out of an hour long programme is in question. However, whilst this footage is in question (and so it should be) what is not in question is that Primark’s suppliers were outsourcing, using poor working conditions, offering poor pay and using child labour, so how Primark can say, that the viewers have been deceived, is beyond me.

Dan McDougall is an Amnesty award winning investigative reporter who has an incredible record of exposing human rights violations. Frank Simmonds is an experienced producer who has been responsible for many important revelatory Panorama programmes. Both stand by the authenticity of the footage and have written public statement damning the findings.

Whilst I don’t believe that journalism shouldn’t be questioned, I do believe that discrediting such worthy journalists on the “balance of probabilities” is extremely unjust.

It is worth noting that 6 months after this programme, Dan McDougall, exposed Primark for employing illegal immigrants in a UK sweatshop.


9 Comments to “Ethics, What Ethics?”

  1. Great article Bunty and a subject that you clearly feel passionate about.

    We live in a disposable fashion era and any right-minded person can easily deduce that a top for £2 cannot have been produced ethically. However it is hard to persuade young women to buy the same top elsewhere for £15 when everyone is feeling low on cash.

    Exposés like this help us not to bury our heads in the sand when we pick up a bargain.

  2. Unfortunately its all about profit and loss. The problem lies beyond what we see or is revealed to us.

  3. A British High St fashion chain orders from an NGO I know in Delhi pretty much as a box ticking exercise so that they can say that they have an ethical policy. They take 6 months credit from this NGO and don’t pay sampling charges which is the most expensive stage of the production process.

    Primark simply got caught but loads of companies exploit labour. I know it’s not the same thing at all but I think certain segments of employees in Britain are also exploited. The minimum wage is hardly significant compared to the cost of living which is why as vakeel bibi points out people need and want cheap clothing.

  4. OMG that is shocking – can you give us a hint which high st shop is doing that Bubbly?

  5. Thanks, Vakeel Bibi. Yes I am passionate about this subject. And you and Bubbly are quite right, the cost of living does outweigh ethics. That is why it is important for regulating bodies to regulate properly and ensure that these companies are meeting guidelines.

    Bubbly, the same thing is happening here in England. There are a number of sweatshops in England that are being used by high street shops and everytime they get caught out, they shut down and start again under a different name. It is one of the most unregulated industries and it is shocking how low garments are made for in the UK.

  6. ooh not sure I can hint, the hint would be so obvious and the chatterjis can’t afford libel cases at this stage. If WW stands for Wonder Woman and you can protect us then maybe I can give the hint.

  7. Hi there. I just read your blog post and was interested in your comments as you raise some interesting points. I work for Primark’s PR agency, so I can’t really comment or reply to them individually, but I wondered whether you’d seen the Primark Panorama response video? This is on a site with the full BBC Trust findings and explains the background to the Dan McDougall investigation. As you may have seen the BBC has handed back the award it won for the programme.

  8. Hi Phil

    Love that you commented on this story but are you claiming that Primark has a solid ethical policy that it follows? I have stopped shopping in Primark since the Panorama programme as I was gutted to think I was supporting such unethical behaviour.

    As I interpret the problem here is not that the BBC has returned an award – perhaps a tiny part of their programme wasn’t fully researched and therefore warranted the return of an award – but that doesn’t really put Primark in the clear does it?

    I would be really interested in what you have to say as Primark was my favourite high st shop and I loved picking up a bargain in there.

  9. Thank you Phil for defending Primark and posting this video. However, I do have to agree with Barbie and refer to my whole argument on this case. It is not about 45 seconds of disputed footage but about the other hour that made Primark sack some of its suppliers.
    Maybe Primark should spend less time trying awards taken away and more time on its supply chain policies and win back the plethora of customers it has lost. I personally feel that Primark has its self to blame for its negative image not the BBC doc.
    I too would be really interested in what you have to say.

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