Discount fashion retailer Primark has announced new sustainability commitments but said it will keep prices “affordable.”
Primark claims that by 2030, its clothing will be made from recycled or “more sustainably sourced materials.”
The company has also pledged to cut carbon emissions in half across its value chain.
Critics have expressed concern that this will be difficult to track due to the lack of transparency in fast-fashion supply chains.
The global retailer said in a statement that it will also design its clothes to be more durable so that they can be recycled and last longer – without raising its prices.
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It has stated that it will “pursue a living wage for workers in its supply chain,” but has not specified how much this wage would be or when it would be implemented in the countries where it employs people. Primark operates 397 stores in 14 countries and employs approximately 70,000 people.
“Sustainability should not be priced at a premium that only a minority can afford,” said the company’s CEO, Paul Marchant.
“Because of who we are, we believe we have the opportunity to make more sustainable fashion options affordable to everyone.”
Primark said it will eliminate single-use plastics in its own operations, but does not own the majority of factories which manufacture its clothes.
However, Noelle Hatley, a lecturer in fashion business at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Fashion Institute, believes that using words like “ambitions” and “pursuing” is ambiguous.
“They need to set measurable targets, such as how many suppliers and factories there will be, and by when will living wages be paid?”
Primark has stated that it will make all men’s, women’s, and children’s entry-level t-shirts from sustainably sourced cotton over the next year.
“It is difficult to know how they will achieve this without cost transparency, as the fast fashion business model relies on ‘unsustainable’ or ‘below real cost’ prices.”
Though she believes the announcement is encouraging, Ms Hatley believes that if prices are maintained, it “would be good for them to share how they are achieving this, for example, are they accepting a lower margin, or is the factory being paid the same for what could be more expensive materials.”
According to Kate Fletcher, research professor at the University of the Arts London’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, the problem with fast fashion is volume, and questions remain about how the company will limit how many pieces it produces.
“The real change is in the details, not the commitments and aspirations,” she explained.
“What I’d like to see are specifics on what the real and living wages are in various countries.”
Rana Plaza fire
The Republic of Ireland-based company was among a number of retailers who faced harsh criticism in 2013 after more than 1,100 workers were killed in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory.
Primark, one of the 23 brands produced at the factory, made payments to victims and their families.
It was one of the worst industrial accidents in recent memory. and prompted more scrutiny of working conditions in garment factories.
A worker in a Bangladeshi factory typically earns around 10p an hour.
“I’d also like to see specific descriptions of sustainable materials and what percentage of recycled material is actually involved,” Prof Fletcher added.
While the environmental impact of flying is now well known, fashion uses more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. The industry also accounts for nearly 20% of wastewater.
In the UK an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year. and according to the World Bank, 40% of clothing purchased in some countries is never used.
Continuing to actively wear a piece of clothing for just nine months longer can diminish its environmental impacts by 20-30%, in the UK, according to the recycling charity WRAP.
Every year, UK citizens buy more new clothes than any other European country and discard over a million tonnes of clothing.
In 2018, the global fashion industry is estimated to have produced approximately 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is equal to the combined emissions of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.