Just over a year ago, in September 2021, Irish textile discounter Primark unveiled a far-reaching sustainability strategy aimed at reducing textile waste, halving CO2 emissions throughout the company's value chain and improving the lives of the people who make Primark products. Now the company has presented the results in its “Sustainability and Ethics Progress Report 2021/22”.
Primark is committed to becoming more sustainable in four main areas, namely
- using more sustainable materials,
- focusing its design process on recycling,
- producing less CO2 and using less disposable plastic, and
- guaranteeing living wages and fair working conditions.
“The past twelve months have been about laying the right foundations for our Primark Cares sustainability strategy. Our main focus has been on setting ourselves up to deliver on our commitments. So pilots and processes have been as important as the progress we have made in this first year,” comments Primark Cares CEO Lynne Walker in a press release.
“A year ago, we promised to change the way we make and source our clothes. We committed to rethinking our business processes. We have deliberately set ambitious targets for 2030 to guide us. We have spent the last year investing in and developing our training, exploring new ways of working within our own organisation and with suppliers and partners to support these changes. It has been challenging at times and we know we are only at the beginning, but after a year we are more determined than ever to make more sustainable fashion affordable for all,” adds Walker.
More sustainable materials
In May, Primark announced the expansion of its Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme (PSCP). The programme aims to train 275,000 farmers in more sustainable farming methods by 2023 with then, 150,000 farmers in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan being trained, 80 percent of whom are women. In its latest sustainability report, Primark confirms the target and reports that so far, 252,800 cotton farmers have participated. The discounter also emphasises that “this programme has established itself as the largest of its kind by any textile retailer”.
Currently 40 percent of all cotton garments sold at Primark are made from recycled, organically grown or PSCP cotton, up from 27 percent when the Primark Cares strategy was launched. The aim is to make all garments from recycled or more sustainable materials by 2030. Primark defines ‘more sustainable materials’ as those where efforts are being made to reduce their environmental impact.
Primark implemented a new Circular Design training programme for 24 product team members and six suppliers earlier and has now extended it by twelve months.
In addition, 43 repair workshops were held across the UK and Ireland to raise awareness among customers and colleagues to keep and wear their clothes longer and to be able to do so through the workshops.
Textile return boxes are now offered in all branches in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria, representing 65 percent of all branches.
Less CO2 and single-use plastic
Primark has reduced carbon emissions in its own operations (Scope 1 & 2) by 22.9 percent relative to 2018/19 and re-established a centre of excellence for packaging to develop ways to reduce single-use plastic and non-clothing waste by 2027.
Clothes hangers account for around 65 percent of all single-use plastic at Primark. A new strategy has been developed this year to switch to 100 percent recycled materials wherever possible for all clothes hangers. The company also aims to reuse or recycle as many remaining hangers as possible so that all hangers can become part of a circular system.
“Since the launch of Primark Cares last year, we have diverted 95 percent of the waste we produce in our direct operations from landfill. Clear policies have been developed that explain how we treat and manage each type of waste we produce. We provide extensive training to our employees so that they all know how to dispose of waste appropriately," explains Primark.
People and wages
Primark has commenced a research project with the Anker Research Institute to obtain new or updated Global Living Wage Coalition benchmarks for four of its sourcing markets (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Turkey and Vietnam).
The company also launched four new networks on inclusion and support where employees can discuss, represent and shape approaches and thinking on neurodiversity, disability, cultural diversity, gender and LGBTQIA+.
Primark is also active locally, for example supporting a project to address the mental health of garment workers in India. “I have worked in the garment industry for the last 25 years, but working with Primark was different. It is very rare for a brand to go beyond its code of conduct, and even rarer for a brand to invest in an untried measure. The success of the MySpace project is the result of the risk Primark was willing to take to improve the wellbeing of its employees and make a lasting impact for workers,” stated Bobby Joseph, head of community health and occupational health services at St. John's Medical College in Bangalore, India.
Sustainability at Primark in numbers
Primark reported revenues of just under 7.7 billion pounds (almost 9 billion euros) and employed a total of 72,000 people in the report period. The company currently operates around 408 stores in 14 countries and engages in manufacturing in 883 Tier 1 factories (those that produce finished products) in 26 countries. These employ around 630,000 people.
In 2021, Primark carried out 2,400 factory audits in its supply chain, which would equate to three visits per factory if taking the previous figures into account. Primark has 61 employees working on sustainability and ethics at its head office and 130 team members across its 12 key sourcing markets. They work with more than 40 external partners in key sourcing markets on programmes that make a social difference, and 30 in eight manufacturing countries supporting garment workers in more than 800 factories.