Manchester firm could have saved Primark from child labour scandal

No sooner had we treated ourselves to some rather nice Egyptian Cotton sheets, than Dan McDougall was exposing the plight of Egyptian child cotton pickers in the Observer: ‘10-hour shifts in 40C heat for 20 pence a day’. Fortunately, our cotton was picked elsewhere, but the hardship the world’s poorest (some as young as six) suffer for our luxury should keep us all awake at night.

Now he’s teamed up with the BBC’s Panorama to expose Primark, who will now embark on a by-the-book ‘open and honest’ crisis PR programme. That will work for now; we all like cheap clothes and so many will happily accept Primark’s apologies.

Longer term retailers must get a grip of their supply chains. It is difficult when so much is outsourced and the competition between rival suppliers is what keeps prices down, but responsibility cannot be shirked.

Surprisingly, given its low profile, there is an international standard with a fighting chance of making a difference. It’s called ‘Made in Green’.

Made in Green is regulated by independent laboratories, like Manchester’s Shirley Technologies, who complement vigorous inspection with forensic science techniques to ensure products are free of harmful substances, respect the environment and respect human rights. Too robust to be a quick fix, Made in Green is an initiative the rag trade must embrace sooner rather than later if it values its reputation at all.

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