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Why Primark’s Pausing New Orders From These Bangladesh Factories

Months after labor advocates blasted Primark for not doing enough to quell garment-worker suppression in Bangladesh, the fast-fashion giant has agreed to suspend new orders at all offending factories until changes are made.

“Factories have to provide evidence on eight points before they can start receiving new orders, including showing that charges have been dropped and compensation paid to workers affected,” said Labour Behind the Label, an English nonprofit that launched a campaign after Primark suppliers dismissed 427 workers for demonstrating over the country’s inadequate monthly minimum wage of 8,000 taka ($95) earlier this year.

A petition by the group garnered more than 1,000 signatures before it closed at the end of May.

“Primark [has] not publicly disputed the arrests and the dismissals, or shown any indication that [it is] demanding that suppliers reinstate workers and pay compensation,” the petition had read.

Labour Behind the Label praised Primark’s change of heart as “good news.”

“Primark [says it has] secured compensation for all the workers dismissed and, in a few cases, got them reinstated,” the organization wrote on its website. “We are waiting for the full figures.”

But Primark workers weren’t the only ones affected in the crackdown; supplier factories for C&A, H&M, Inditex (which owns Zara), Mango and Marks & Spencer have also been implicated.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre estimates that more than 12,000 garment workers were given the pink slip by factory owners despite assurances from the Bangladeshi government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association that demonstrators would face no retaliation. Hundreds more received “unsubstantiated charges at the behest of factory owners,” Labour Behind the Label added.

“We have also been lobbying other U.K. brands who had suppliers involved in the repression,” the nonprofit said.

Of the remaining retailers, only Next, whose contractors dismissed 2,499 workers and charged 801 others, and H&M, whose factories dismissed 2,059 workers and charged 979 others, have made any kind of reparations, though even these have stopped short of direct applications to the government. Marks & Spencer, Labour Behind the Label said, has “only responded with generic information and little detail.”

The second-largest garment exporter after China, Bangladesh’s $30 billion clothing sector employs 4 million people and accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.