Corporate Eye

Handling a crisis at Primark

Embarrassingly bad news across the broadsheets and on the BBC Panorama programme … how should you handle this?

Primark Ethics Site

Primark, a cut-price clothes retailer, have had some ongoing bad press about their suppliers over the last couple of years, but there has been more over the last week, with bad news about the use of child labour to produce their goods – and a major television programme tonight highlighting this issue.

According to Primark, they have cancelled orders from three factories in Southern India for failing to meet their ethical standards by subcontracting embroidery and sequin work to children working from a refugee camp. Primark have also withdrawn the garments from sale.

This is deeply embarrassing, and could just chip the gloss off the prediction that Primark will soon oust Marks & Spencer as Britain’s favourite clothes retailer, as it reaches over 10% volume share of the market.

So how have Primark handled this crisis online?

The main Primark site is not beautiful, but they have a large link from their home page to a separate website on Primark’s ethics. From here, you can:

  • watch a video explaining how they can sell things so cheaply
  • review their ethical strategy
  • read their code of conduct
  • read news about the action they plan to take on breaches of their ethical code
  • read a Q&A section
  • contact Primark with your comments.

The video is clearly purpose-made for this site, as it deals specifically with supplier relations, and isn’t a generic piece of corporate video. And the rest of the content is of a piece: on-topic and targeted. Impressively, some of the FAQ available from this page are directly related to this issue:

  • How can you assure me that I should still shop at Primark?
  • Do you regularly drop suppliers for ethical reasons, even if this potentially costs workers their jobs?
  • What have you done about this to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

As we all know, FAQ are often not updated very often, or even very relevant, so this is commendable.

Interestingly, the contact form offers the chance to opt out of having your views published at a later date on this website as part of a discussion. Perhaps Primark have plans for some form of onsite feedback? Perhaps a forum, or other means of user-generated content?

Whatever your views on the issue, this is a commendable way of dealing with the problem, both online and off.

It is upfront — no need to hunt around to find discussion of the issues — and up-to-date — the FAQ indicate that this is fresh content. Also, the domain name was only registered on 30 May 2008, so I suspect this site has been put up in direct response to this current crisis. In general, I think that experts would recommend that preparations are made for a crisis in advance, and kept dark until needed, but if this site has been put up in the last couple of weeks, Primark have done very well indeed in addressing this issue.

Primark is owned by Associated British Foods; there is no mention of the current furore affecting Primark on the ABF website.

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