Blog: Leonie BarrieCheap as chips and ethically unsound

Leonie Barrie | 13 December 2005

Discount clothing retailer Primark has won the dubious honour of being rated as the least ethical place to buy clothes in Britain, coming bottom in a survey of 27 high street stores. The study by Ethical Consumer magazine evaluated Britain’s least caring clothing chains – including Mk One and Marks & Spencer – on their attitudes to workers’ rights and for using materials that damage the environment.

The top ratings in the study went to Jigsaw and Matalan, but even this it seems is no cause for celebration. Researchers said ethical standards among the high street clothing chains surveyed were so low that none of them could be recommended to shoppers with a conscience.

Primark’s phenomenally successful selling point is its ability to offer extraordinarily cheap, up-to-the-minute fashions. But does it necessarily follow that prices must be so low for a reason? Or does the ‘race to the bottom’ to sell increasingly cheap clothes made in low-wage economies really lead to scant regard for workers’ conditions? Primark’s website points out that its procurement is “carried out in strict accordance with the Primark Code of Conduct which incorporates the United Nations Charter, Chapter IX, article 55.” As do the other retailers criticised in the survey. 

So what are the alternatives for consumers who want to fill their shopping bags in as ethical way as possible? Perhaps the undisputable answer lies in charity shops, vintage clothing and organic clothing.


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