Primark owner ABF has sent us a response to our online action on living wages, which hundreds of supporters have completed. The action is also addressed to M&S, Tesco and the Arcadia Group, but these retailers have yet to respond. Click on the image to see the response in full.
The online action asks very specifically what concrete steps Primark is taking, and its response here does give us some indication of that, all be it in vague terms. It says that Primark has joined an ETI group to look at the issue, and is working in three of its largest supplier countries to come up with a definition of the living wage. This is good news.
Primark’s pledge to be active in work on the living wage, and its definite improvement on a year ago, is a sign that it is seeking active change. It is good to see that Primark has acknowledged the need not just to emulate others, but to go beyond what they are doing.
It omits the next sentence of the profile, which states,
As it builds its ethical trading programme, we will be watching to see whether it achieves this, and hope that it does not slip into the same tired methods that others follow.
That is of course the function of this online action. In its response, ABF/Primark talks about its engagement with LBL on this issue. At the meetings it mentions, Primark has frequently told us that living wages are a ‘very complicated issue’ and that we should be ‘realistic’. Of course it won’t be solved overnight, but that doesn’t mean that Primark can’t set out, concretely, what it plans to do about it.
Primark’s response tells us a couple of things it is doing now, and reaffirms its aspiration to crack the nut of living wages. But it doesn’t tell us how it plans to get there, or even what steps it will take next. How can we be sure that it will do anything with the figures it gets from the work to define a living wage? The ethical trading strategy that ABF/Primark mentions makes no mention of the living wage at all.
We need to know what Primark will do next, otherwise there is a risk that the current work on defining a living wage, together with those complexities that Primark keeps mentioning, will mean that in spite of all the discussion here in the UK, there is no real change for workers on the ground.
We should end by noting that Primark has done well by writing straight back to supporters and engaging with the issues we raised. The other three retailers to whom the action is directed have yet to do so.
Want to write back? See our letter-writing guide for more advice.