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02 Aug

How Ethical Is Primark?

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Popular chain department store Primark may be trendy and affordable, but can workers and the planet afford the way they do business? How ethical is Primark? This article is based on the Primark rating published in May 2023 and may not reflect claims the brand has made since then. Our ratings analysts are constantly rerating the thousands of brands you can check on our directory.

The problem with 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, there are a few positive steps Primark has taken, though they’re primarily peripheral to their business model. Like a lot of other brands, 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. 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 uses some lower-impact materials in its products, including recycled materials. But as with most fast fashion brands, Primark’s growing reliance on recycled polyester isn’t inherently sustainable and has many pros and cons.

Ultimately, the biggest flaw with Primark is its business model, which relies on overproducing mass quantities of cheap garments which then end up in landfills and cause environmental problems around the world. Unfortunately, we found no evidence it minimises textile waste in its supply chain. And, while the fast fashion retailer offers clothing recycling to consumers, it doesn’t report on its results.

Primark’s environmental initiatives are small steps in the right direction, but they just aren’t enough to minimise the brand’s huge carbon footprint as a fast fashion giant, which is why it receives a score of “Not Good Enough” for the planet.

Labour conditions

Primark has taken some positive steps towards improving its 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.

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 responsible 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 2022 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.

Animal welfare

Primark is a member of the Leather Working Group, which promotes more sustainable practices in the leather industry, and does not use fur, angora, down feather, or exotic animal skin 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 “Not Good Enough”. Primark has implemented a number of initiatives to use more responsible materials, 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.

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 responsible fashion and spells nothing but bad news for the environment, workers, and animals.

Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds 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.

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, better brands rated “Good” or “Great”?

Good swaps

See below for some “Good” and “Great” alternatives to Primark. If affordability is a concern for you, why not check out our article that answers the question “is more 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 H&M or Uniqlo. However, our article on more affordable responsible brands is also worth checking out first, as well as shopping second hand wherever possible.

Plant Faced Clothing

Rated: Good

Streetwear without the sweatshops, that's the motto of this British 100% vegan and cruelty-free streetwear apparel brand that is all about promoting a new wave of consciousness that supports the non-harming or exploitation of any beings in fashion production.

Buy Plant Faced Clothing in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Plant Faced Clothing.

Afends

Rated: Good
Someone on roof wearing clothes by Afends.

Born in Byron Bay, Australia, Afends is a responsible brand leading the way in hemp fashion. Drawing inspiration from the environment, streetwear, and surf culture, Afends’ mission is to create more sustainable clothing through innovation, action, and positive change. As true hemp advocates, they purchased 100 acres of farmland called Sleepy Hollow to grow their own hemp crops and ignite the hemp revolution.

Find most of the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Afends.

Threads 4 Thought

Rated: Good

Threads 4 Thought uses a range of lower-impact materials including TENCEL™ Modal harvested from the limbs of beech trees. This process means that the trees are never cut down and 95% of the production materials to make the yarn are recovered and reused. The brand's manufacturers are a combination of Fair Trade USA certified and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production certified.

Find the range in sizes XS-XL, with an extended sizing range up to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Threads 4 Thought.

Happy Earth

Rated: Good
People in lower-impact clothing by Happy Earth.

Happy Earth Apparel is a US organic clothing brand that works to give back, inspired by nature and dedicated to preserving it. This B Corp certified brand makes the planet a better place with every purchase. Through its partnerships with non-profits and Happy Earth ambassadors, it's planting trees, fighting climate change, and cleaning up trash.

Find most items in sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Happy Earth.

Sense Organics

Rated: Good
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 "Good" rating for its commitment to lower-impact materials and its treatment of garment workers, including ensuring suppliers pay a living wage.

Find clothes for kids aged 0-10.

See the rating.

Shop Sense Organics.

Beaumont Organic

Rated: Good
Someone perched on rocks by the sea wearing a blue jumpsuit by Beaumont Organic.

Beaumont Organic is a UK-based slow fashion brand that blends simple style with responsible 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.

Yes Friends

Rated: Great

Yes Friends is a UK-based fashion brand that creates more affordable clothing for everyone. Yes Friends' first product, classic cut t-shirts, cost less than £4 to make and the brand only charges £7.99. Using large scale production and direct to consumer margins means Yes Friends can charge you an affordable price for its more responsible clothing.

Find the range inclusively sized in 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes Friends.

Honest Basics

Rated: Good
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 more 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.

The range is available in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Honest Basics.

Harvest & Mill

Rated: Great
Harvest & Mill sustainable socks pack in ivory

Harvest & Mill pieces are grown, milled, and sewn exclusively in the US, supporting American organic cotton farmers and local sewing communities. The brand makes basics for everyone, always ensuring they are not dyed or bleached, greatly reducing the use of water, energy, and dye materials. Even better, by cultivating different varieties of cotton, the brand is able to bolster biodiversity, which is essential for ensuring healthy ecosystems and keeping our planet resilient in the face of climate change.

Shop the range in sizes S-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Harvest & Mill.

STANLEY/STELLA

Rated: Great
man wearing dark blue denim shirt by stanley stella

Belgian brand STANLEY/STELLA celebrates simplicity in its pieces by focussing on comfort, quality, and durability. It uses 100% organic cotton and mainly recycled polyester to support the circular economy and reduce waste.

Find the styles in inclusive sizes 2XS-5XL.

See the rating.

Shop STANLEY/STELLA.

Armedangels

Rated: Great

Innovative, responsible, and on-trend. Germany’s Armedangels gets a top score overall from us. The brand covers all the basics in womenswear, menswear, and kidswear. Armedangels' quality and long-lasting pieces are made from lower-impact 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 @ Earthkind.

Shop Armedangels @ Cerqular.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash, 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 thousands of rated brands.

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