Thursday, December 04, 2008

Protesting Against Primark

Tomorrow morning, an extraordinary event will take place. A company that sources sweatshop labour will be meeting in the headquarters of Britain's trade union movement.

The No Sweat campaign will rightly be protesting outside, and here is what they have to say about the issue ...

Friday 5 December from 10.30am, TUC, Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

PRIMARK's AGM is the most important opportunity this year to put pressure on PRIMARK. This annual shareholder meeting is when important decisions get made regarding PRIMARK's policies and procedures.

It is PRIMARK's shareholders who take home the lion's share of PRIMARK's profits and who have the power to make PRIMARK introduce policies and procedures that will ensure the lives of workers are put ahead of PRIMARK's pursuit of profits.

So join us on Friday 5 December from 10.30 onwards to make your voice heard. We have seen how fearful PRIMARK is of us publicly shaming them, so please help us make sure their shareholders deliver justice to the workers making PRIMARK clothes.

It beggars belief that PRIMARK has been caught on the back foot again. Just five months on from the BBC exposé that highlighted the appalling conditions faced by Indian workers producing clothes for the famous high street store and PRIMARK has yet again been caught out disrespecting these workers. Join us on 5 December to hammer the nail in PRIMARK's ethical coffin.

An embarrassed and defensive TUC bureaucracy is fighting its corner, with General Secretary Brendan Barber issuing the remarkable statement reproduced below. Aside from his haughty chagrin that any supporter of workers' rights dare publicise any issue without approaching him first, the statement also endorses Primark's owning company ABF in words that could have been written by its own PR department.

And if the leaders of Unite, GMB and USDAW think it is OK for the trade union movement to host this event, then they should be ashamed of themselves.

I have received a number of enquiries from colleagues following the story in today’s Guardian headed ‘TUC in sweatshop labour row over firm hiring congress hall’.

I am therefore writing to all unions to set out the background and the TUC position.

Some months ago the company ABF made a commercial booking for Congress Centre conference facilities for their company AGM on 5th December.

Ten days or so ago, a letter was received by the TUC from Brent Trades Council demanding that the commercial booking should be cancelled because of unacceptable labour abuses in Bangladesh perpetrated by Primark which is a wholly owned subsidiary of ABF.

Their letter purported also to be on behalf of the campaigning group ‘No Sweat’ though no direct approach to the TUC has ever been made by No Sweat itself.

The letter also referred to an on-line petition to the TUC.

The TUC has been well aware of concerns over issues in Primark’s supply chain and has raised these through the Ethical Trading Initiative.

ABF is a member company of ETI and has accepted that they have responsibilities to ensure that their supply chain should observe decent employment standards.

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) (which is also represented on the ETI) has also been actively following up issues with Primark in Bangladesh and other countries.

On receiving the approach from Brent Trades Council the TUC communications department consulted their counterparts in Unite, GMB and USDAW all of which are recognised within ABF.

None of the unions supported the demand that the contract with ABF should be cancelled.

The following statement was then issued to the Guardian when it raised this issue with us:

"Associated British Foods has made a commercial booking to hold its AGM in the TUC's conference facilities. This is not a Primark event.

"ABF is a unionised company with good relations with UK unions.

"The TUC has a proud record of campaigning in the interest of vulnerable workers both in the UK and developing countries.

"We believe in constructive engagement with companies. We welcome ABF's membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative and have used that opportunity to press concerns about supply chain issues - including in Bangladesh.

"Unions recognised by ABF also, of course, have other direct channels to raise such issues with the company."

If any union ever does have an issue over Congress Centre bookings then of course it is always open to them to raise it direct with the TUC. This is surely preferable to raising issues through the media.

Yours sincerely
General Secretary

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