Primark, the retailer known as “a relentless curator and promoter of clothes so ridiculously cheap,” has come under fire again after a shopper found a distress note in one of its products. A shopper recently found a note allegedly written by a factory worker in China that was hidden in a pair of Primark socks and claimed that the socks were made in substandard working conditions. This comes on the heels of a similar incident in 2014 when a shopper who purchased a dress from the Ireland-based fast fashion retailer discovered a hand stitched label sewn inside the garment reading: “Forced to work exhausting hours.” The earlier case has since been deemed a publicity stunt to shed light on the working conditions employed in the factories of fast fashion suppliers. The case at hand, however, may be the real deal.
This is not the first time this month such a note has been found. Per WWD, another U.K. shopper, who purchased Primark socks in the company’s Huddersfield store, allegedly found a handwritten note by Ting Kun Ding, who claimed to have been imprisoned for blackmail for having tried to expose corrupt government officials in China.
Regardless of whether the most recent notes are real or fabricated, the underlying facts largely remain the same, especially if we consider Primark’s sordid past and its unreasonably low prices. As you may recall, the Irish fast fashion giant was one of the retailers linked to the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2012, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 garment workers. Subsequently, the rooftop canopy of a Pakistani factory that produced for Primark and other brands caved in this past September, killing four people. Moreover, the retailer’s extremely low prices (think: $7 jeans, $8 sweaters, $3.50 t-shirts and tanks tops for $1.60) have raised red flags.
The unfortunate truths are these: It is hardly by chance that fast fashion retailers like Primark can charge less than $10 for trousers. Fast fashion retailers are often able to sell products at such low prices because: 1) They do not have to employ/pay designers because a majority of their pieces are copies of the original designs of others; 2) They bypass important quality control and manufacturing safety standards because they are costly to implement and monitor (hence, the toxic chemicals in clothes, the frequent employee hospitalizations, and the increasing number of fires and buildings collapsing); and 3) They do not pay their laborers adequate wages, and in come cases, the laborers are subjected to slave-like conditions, as we have learned from Zara on a number of occasions.
In instances such as these when the consumer is not paying a reasonable price for garments and accessories, someone else is paying for the difference. That “someone else” is usually a garment factory laborer, as we have seen over the past several years Bangladesh and other far-flung locales, such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Argentina (although labor practices like this exist an array of other places, including Los Angeles).
With this in mind, such pleas for help – either real or just for show – should not come as too much of a surprise, and regardless of the potential lack of authenticity, they shed light on a very real problem that is worthy of significant consideration.