At Primark, we’re very selective about who we will and won’t work with. We will only work with suppliers’ factories if they agree to and meet the internationally-recognised standards set out in our Code of Conduct – requirements range from respecting workers’ right to form a trade union to ensuring people don’t work excessive hours.
Our audit programme measures every factory against these internationally recognised standards.
Becoming an approved supplier
Before we place our first order, a member of our Ethical Trade and Environmental Sustainability team meets with the factory to explain the standards we expect them to meet. The team also conducts a formal audit of current factory conditions. Audits help us to assess a factory’s performance against the Code of Conduct. In the case of new suppliers and their factories, an audit allows us to be confident that the conditions in the factory are acceptable before we approve it for use. Under certain circumstances, where our team cannot conduct this initial audit, we may assign this activity to a member of one of our carefully selected third party audit companies.
To build good working relationships with new factories our initial audits are fully announced, which supports transparency and allows us to focus on remediation where required.
Conducting social audits
Even after a factory has been audited and approved, we will audit it again at least once a year, unannounced, with no prior notification. Rather than asking the factory to conduct audits we pay, so that we have control over of the quality and integrity of the audits being carried out on our behalf. As well as thousands of these unannounced audits, we also conduct hundreds of unannounced spot-checks every year to assess specific issues or follow up on allegations from whistle-blowers, concerned civil society organisations, or other stakeholders.
Our audits allow us to get an extremely detailed picture of working conditions across the factory. They cover all workers, from machinists to security guards to kitchen staff. We use different methods to get information, including:
- Assessments of fire or machine safety
- Interviews with management and staff in functions like HR
- Reviews of paperwork
- Confidential worker interviews
We understand that listening to what workers have to say in confidence is essential and it’s a mandatory part of our audits. These interviews offer us the chance to uncover what their working life is really like and allow workers to raise any issues they may have.
Ensuring building safety
Before the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, factory owners were responsible for ensuring buildings were structurally sound. Building safety wasn’t a formal part of auditing of suppliers facilities by brands and retailers. Rana Plaza changed this.
Our dedicated structural integrity programme
In the aftermath of Rana Plaza we established our own Structural Integrity Programme. Each factory building was assessed by a team of structural engineers against international standards. If any areas were found to require improvement, we worked with a team of structural and civil engineers from international engineering firms, MCS and Mott MacDonald, to provide suppliers and their factories with technical support and guidance.
Today, the Primark Structural Integrity Programme is headed up by our own dedicated Chartered Structural Engineer, supported by a team from Mott MacDonald. All first and second tier factories in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar are subject to rigorous and comprehensive surveys.
How do our factory inspections work?
Structural engineers based within our local Primark Ethical Trade team meet with factory management to review existing structural plans and drawings for the building.
Our expert team then conducts a physical inspection of a building, both inside and out. Engineers search for anything that might alert them to a problem. This includes everything from looking for visual cracks, to checking the location of columns and supporting structures.
Engineers also look for signs that part of a factory might have become unintentionally overloaded. This might be due to the addition of a temporary storage structure or the installation of heavy machinery, such as washing or fabric printing machines, on upper floors.
These physical inspections are supported by a review of the original engineering drawings provided by the factory and a series of calculations and tests to ascertain whether a building is fit for purpose.
Following completion of the survey, engineers provide factories with detailed and specific technical information explaining any improvements required to meet Primark’s requirements. Our team then works directly with the supplier and the factory to give them guidance on how to make changes.
These surveys form part of the factory approval process and the factory must meet our requirements to be able to start business with us. If any factory fails to meet these requirements we won’t place any orders. It’s that simple.
Our work with expert partners on structural integrity remains central to our relationship with suppliers and their factories.
Supporting the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety
We were one of the first international retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy. This legally-binding agreement requires that factories are inspected by engineers to assess the structural integrity of buildings. Following an inspection, factory owners are given an enforceable corrective action plan to address any areas of improvement. All work must be carried out within a stipulated period of time. Continued business from Accord members depends on completion of these remediation plans.
As part of signing up to the Accord, retailers and brands – or ‘lead brands’ – are responsible for working with specific factories to ensure any required work is done. We’re a ‘lead brand’ in more than 30 factories in Bangladesh. We work directly with factory owners to provide technical support for any corrective action required, while reporting back to the Accord and to fellow members.
The original Accord lasted for five years, but in 2018 a three year ‘Transition Accord’ was signed. The objective of this agreement was to support the transition of responsibility for the building safety programme from the Accord Foundation in Amsterdam to a new organisation – the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council, or RSC. Moving the work of the Accord to the RSC will mean the programme is run by a Bangladeshi organisation for and with greater involvement of local industry.