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Primark Watches for Slavery in its Supply Chain

As consumers and retailers continue to express their concerns about unethical sourcing, Primark says it is on the hunt for slavery in its supply chain.

While attending the Trust Women Conference in London on Tuesday, Primark ethical trading team head Paul Lister said the fast-fashion chain was taking precautions against slavery in its supply chain by minimizing costs on advertising and buying inventory in bulk, Reuters reported.

“It is about constantly being vigilant, constantly being out there and knowing what to look for and being forensic,” Lister said at the Trust Women Conference, an annual meeting held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that addresses human trafficking and women’s rights issues.

Primark in recent years has faced many accusations of using “sweatshops” and facilitating “slave labor” to manufacture its budget-friendly clothing. To address its unethical sourcing accusations, Primark has recently gone public about its efforts to ensure ethical supply chain practices. Although Lister emphasized Primark was cleaning up its supply chain operations, the low cost of the retailer’s merchandise still poses a risk for exploitation in the apparel production process.

According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, there are approximately 21 million victims of forced labor worldwide, where 56 percent of exploitation occurs in the garment production hubs of the Asia-Pacific region.

Lister said Primark’s business model generates quick turnaround times for clothing manufacturing, but it also complicates supply chain transparency. Starting with Primark’s stores and ending at the company’s 1,700 supplier factories, Lister ensured that Primark was taking the steps to better its supply chain. Despite this step towards better compliance, Lister emphasized that it was harder to monitor ethical practices at Tier 2 and Tier 3 factories; which included facilities for zipper production and garment dyeing.

“The further down the supply chain you go the more complicated it gets,” Lister said.

To improve ethical supply chain practices, Lister said Primark carried out independent audits on its factories annually, in addition to checking that Syrian migrants were not exploited at its Turkish facilities this year. Furthermore, Primark has also established resources for workers, including a whistleblower hotline and seminars about labor conditions.