How Ethical Is Primark? - Good On You
18 Nov

How Ethical Is Primark?

Irish fast fashion chain Primark is known and loved around the world for its range of on-trend clothing, footwear, accessories, and homewares for men, women, and children at astonishingly low prices.

But does its super cheap price tags belie larger costs to the environment, workers, and animals? We investigated for you to answer the question—how ethical is Primark?

Environmental Impact

First, the good news. Primark is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. It has been using paper bags instead of plastic bags since 2002, and has also introduced initiatives to reduce waste and packaging. In the US, Primark has partnered with the charity Delivering Good, in which stores donate unsold items to those in need. Since 2010, European Primark stores have donated their unsold clothing and buying samples to the charity Newlife, which provides support for disabled and terminally ill children and their families. The brand also committed to eliminate hazardous chemicals in its products—a commitment it made for 2020 as part of the Greenpeace Detox campaign—but there is no evidence it is on track to meet its target.

Primark has started to look at its climate impact by measuring and reporting on the greenhouse gas emissions generated both from its own operations and some of its supply chain. However, it has minimal published greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiatives beyond energy efficiency in stores and has not set a reduction target. This is surprising given that its parent company, Associated British Foods, has set a target one for one of its subsidiaries, British Sugar.

Primark’s environmental initiatives are a step in the right direction, but they just aren’t enough to minimise the brand’s huge carbon footprint as a fast fashion chain, which is why it receives a score of ‘Not Good Enough’ for the planet. In order to improve its score in this area, Primark needs to start using eco-friendly materials in its products, set specific reduction targets in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and wastewater, and implement adequate policies and initiatives for resource management and disposal.

Labour Conditions

Primark has taken some positive steps towards improving its ethical practice when it comes to workers, but there is still much room for improvement. The brand is a signatory to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Cotton Pledge, which commits to boycotting Uzbekistan cotton. Primark is also a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and has adopted their Code of Conduct. However, the code does not ensure payment of a  living wage.

On its ‘Primark Cares’ page, Primark states that before a factory is approved by the brand, it is vetted to internationally-recognised standards set out in its Code of Conduct. However, although factories at the final stage of production are audited at least once a year to monitor their compliance to the Code of Conduct, it is unclear if the brand does the same for the first and second stages of production.

Though the brand has taken some positive steps, the fact that Primark, like so many other fast fashion brands, does not own its own factories and outsources manufacturing to its suppliers means that despite all that talk of ethical practice and auditing, it does not control its supply chain and can therefore effectively shrug off any responsibility for factory workers and any labour issues that may be occurring. On top of that, it received a score of 31-40% in the Fashion Transparency Index, and it discloses inadequate policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19. For these reasons, we have given Primark a score of ‘Not Good Enough’ for people, too.

Primark can improve its score in this area by being more transparent when it comes to its suppliers and auditing practices, as well as paying its workers a living wage and improving health and safety in factories. With the #GoTransparent campaign specifically targeting the brand along with five other major players in fast fashion, Primark won’t have a choice but to comply if it wishes to uphold its good name.

Animal Welfare

Primark is a member of the Leather Working Group, which promotes sustainable practices in the leather industry, and does not use fur, angora, down feather, or exotic animal skin or hair in its products. However, it does use leather and wool without stating its sources, and there is no evidence it traces any animal product to the first stage of production. This is problematic for both our furry friends and factory workers as their wellbeing cannot be guaranteed. Primark could improve its score in this area by stating where its leather and wool are sourced from so consumers can make an informed decision. Until then, it receives ‘Not Good Enough’ here, too.

Overall Rating: Not Good Enough

Overall, we rate Primark as ‘Not Good Enough’ based on our own research. Primark has implemented a number of initiatives to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency in its stores and factories, has signed the Bangladesh Accord and Cotton Pledge, and has adopted the ETI Code of Conduct, which are all commendable steps—but the brand still has a long way to go. Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

Ultimately, the fact that Primark’s business model is based on creating huge amounts of short-lived, poorly-made fast fashion products inherently contradicts the values of ethical fashion and spells nothing but bad news for the environment, workers, and animals.

See the rating.

So instead of buying cheap, poorly-made clothes that are costly to the environment and garment workers, why not give Primark a miss and invest your hard-earned dollars in one of these well-made, ethical brands rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’?

Good Swaps

See below for some ethical alternatives to Primark. If affordability is a concern for you, why not check out our article that answers the question “is ethical clothing really expensive?“. For those of you living week to week who can’t afford to pay more up front—we get it! Everyone is on their own journey, and there is nothing wrong with shopping from more affordable mainstream brands that are at least making a start, like Marks & Spencer or H&M.

Plant Faced Clothing

Rated: Good

Streetwear without sweatshops, that'd the motto of this 100% plant-based, ethical, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free streetwear apparel brand.

See the rating.

Shop Plant Faced Clothing.

Birdsong

Rated: Good

Birdsong is a boutique label producing gorgeous womenswear. Its clothes are handmade in London by knitters and seamstresses earning above the London living wage. The business is built on a philosophy of fairness and authenticity, promising customers “no sweatshop, no photoshop”.

See the rating.

Shop Birdsong.

Sense Organics (0-6 years)

Rated: Great
boy wearing blue sense organics t-shirt

Sense Organics is an established German brand that has been dressing kids in its colourful organic cotton range for 18 years. We give it a ‘Great’ rating for its commitment to eco-friendly materials and its treatment of garment workers, including ensuring suppliers pay a living wage.

See the rating.

Shop Sense Organics.

Beaumont Organic

Rated: Good

Beaumont Organic is a UK-based slow fashion brand that blends simple style with ethical production practices. Founded by Hannah Beaumont-Laurencia, the brand also has its own charitable foundation which supports people in Fiji. Find the range in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Beaumont Organic @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Beaumont Organic.

Armedangels

Rated: Great

Affordable, ethical, and on-trend. Germany’s Armedangels gets a ‘Great’ rating overall from us. The brand covers all the basics for women, men, and kids. Armedangels' quality and long-lasting pieces are made from eco-friendly and certified materials, like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The brand also adopted the Fair Wear Foundation Code of Conduct to protect its workers abroad. Its products are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Armedangels.

Shop Armedangels @ thegreenlabels.

PACT

Rated: Great

PACT is a brand that is passionate about being part of a movement transforming the way apparel is made. All of its clothing is sweatshop-free and child-labour-free, and its activewear range is almost entirely made from certified organic cotton, with more than 50% also certified as Fair Trade. Find PACT in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop PACT.

Honest Basics

Rated: Great
woman wearing sustainable white t-shirt by honest basics

Honest Basics is a GOTS-certified basics brand based in Germany. It's on a mission to make sustainable fashion accessible to everyone, by keeping prices low, making quality basics that everyone has in their wardrobe, and  constantly improving the sustainability of its products and supply chain.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

Editor's note

Feature image via Primark, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

Ethical brand ratings. There’s an app for that.

Wear the change you want to see. Download our app to discover ethical brands and see how your favourites measure up.