In its second sustainability and ethics progress report, the Associated British Foods-owned company shares how pilots and new processes have led to wins both big and small in the past 12 months across the strategy’s three pillars: product, planet and people.
“To provide focus, we set deliberately stretching targets reaching to 2030,” said Lynne Walker, Primark Cares director. “We’ve spent the last year investing in and growing our expert teams, collaborating in new ways within our own business and also with suppliers and partners to support our transformation. It’s felt challenging at times, and we know we’re only getting started but one year in, we’re more committed than ever to make more sustainable fashion affordable for all.”
To shake off fast fashion’s reputation as being disposable, Primark is taking steps to extend the life of its apparel. “Our customers are increasingly conscious of the impact of their shopping choices on society and the planet,” it said in the report. “They want to know how and where their clothes are made, and that they’re designed to last. We are working hard to become a more circular business to reduce the impact of our clothes on the environment.”
To do this, Primark said it will strengthen the durability of its garments by 2025 so customers can shop “affordable clothes designed to last.” This will be measured by increasing the number of products which have been tested and pass Primark’s “enhanced durability wash standard.” In year one, the retailer said it has piloted a framework for this new standard, starting with testing denim. So far, 60 percent of the product it’s evaluated has passed this standard.
Closer to the end consumer, Primark said it plans to scale free in-store educational workshops to teach people how to repair their clothes with hand-sewing techniques. After piloting the sessions with groups during the pandemic, Primark started expanding the program in March 2022. To date, the company has run 43 sessions in stores and head offices in the U.K. and Ireland.
Additionally, 65 percent of Primark stores have Textile Takeback boxes to promote recycling. These are currently available in the U.K., Ireland, Austria and Germany.
Primark’s jeans that follow Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign guidelines as well as its Cradle to Cradle Gold certified mom jeans are two examples of how the retailer is designing for recyclability. By 2027, it aims to have all its clothes be recyclable by design.
A partnership with Circle Economy and the Sustainable Fashion Academy to pilot a Circular Design Training Program for buyers, designers and suppliers is setting decisions makers on the right path. The circularity training is designed to “embed circular thinking across all levels of the business, but with a specific focus on how to develop and design products that meet our vision of a circular product.”
Primark’s goal is to have all apparel made from recycled or “more sustainably sourced” materials by 2030. Though there is no “universal definition” of what more sustainably sourced materials actually means, Primark said it considers these inputs to have a lower environmental impact when compared with conventional components.
A partnership with Recover, a global producer of low-impact, high-quality recycled cotton fiber and cotton fiber blends, is one example of how Primark uses alternative ingredients. In July 2022, Primark became the first high-street retailer to use Recover’s RColorBlend fiber on an international scale. The chain’s leisurewear range was made using recycled cotton and recycled polyester fibers and included T-shirts and sweatshirts in a range of colors.
The company is making progress in this area. At the end of its first year of Primark Cares, 45 percent of clothing units met these criteria—an increase from 25 percent at the launch, the report said. But to truly scale effective circular systems, Primark said more such collaborations are needed within the industry.
“Brands, manufacturers, waste handlers and recyclers need to agree to improve areas such as waste traceability and output quality, all of which are key to large-scale circular production,” the report stated. “However, the small changes we make can deliver a huge impact and we’re committed to use Primark’s scale to help deliver change in this space.”
Using a baseline established in 2018-2019, Primark reports that it is responsible for producing over 6 million tons of CO2e1 emissions across its value chain each year. Its goal is to halve that total by 2023.
There are challenges, however, for a company that has 408 stores in 14 countries, 26 sourcing markets and no owned factories, meaning it must rely on suppliers to help achieve the target, but Primark is playing the long game.
This year, it increased its overall carbon emissions 2.6 percent, which is largely the result of the increased volume of material used to produce the products sold over that period. In the short term, the company said this trend is likely to continue but expects to see a decline once the energy programs being rolled out across its supply chain begin to deliver at scale. Primark is working with RenEnergy, a consultancy and installation company, to help suppliers source and switch to energy from renewable sources.
“RenEnergy is mapping energy consumption in key strategic supplier factories so that we can identify opportunities where we could pool their purchasing power and access alternative energy options that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to individually,” the report stated.
Primark is also moving toward a more regenerative approach to farming, beginning with farmers in its Primark Sustainable Cotton Program (PSCP) initially launched in 2013 to support the livelihoods of cotton farmers.
To date, Primark reports that almost 3,000 PSCP farmers have participated in a pilot on regenerative practices in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Now in its second year, the pilot will initially run for three years and will support the design of an effective training program—specific to the needs of farmers across the three countries.
“Our suppliers source cotton from a number of different countries and regions, and the local environment and climate is different for each location. This means there is no ‘one-size fits all’ for the most appropriate regenerative farming practices. So, we’ve been working closely with farmers and our partners on the ground to consider their different needs in this context,” Primark said.
Primark is pursuing a living wage for workers in the supply chain and support with financial literacy training and access to social protection by 2030. Working with supplier factories through its Ethical Trade program and having in-country teams analyzing payroll data is part of the company’s strategy, as well as following fair purchasing practices.
The company said it has committed to implementing ACT’s Purchasing Practice Commitments by the end of 2023 and is beginning to roll out awareness training to its product teams. The commitments are a set of guidelines that require wages to be itemized costs, on-time payments to suppliers, better planning and forecasting and responsible exit strategies that avoid negatively impacting workers.
Efforts to protect and strengthen the position of women in the supply chain are part of Primark’s people pillar as well. The company is addressing this concern through skills development and supporting easier access to healthcare for women workers.
Last year, Primark launched a six-month trial in eight Bangladeshi factories with the Maya app, a platform that allows users to communicate directly with medical personnel through a hotline, text messaging service or through the app. Maya reported that workers have so far submitted more than 500 queries. This result encouraged Maya and Primark to jointly roll out the app to 20 factories over the coming year.