Primark’s Global Sourcing Map emphasises the importance of brand transparency

Primark's decision to publish a Global Sourcing Map to its website is part of an ongoing journey of supply chain transparency, and a reflection that there is a greater appetite amongst retailers to collaborate on societal and environmental issues.

After revamping its website last May, Primark has this month published its Global Sourcing Map. The map offers details on supplier sites – covering factory names, location, number of workers and gender split – across 31 countries.

Primark sources from 1071 factories and those featured on the map produce more than 95% of Primark’s sales products. The only factories not yet listed are those that have been supplying to Primark for less than a year and are therefore still demonstrating they can consistently work to Primark’s ethical standards.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Primark’s ethical trade and environmental sustainability director, Katharine Stewart, claimed that the publication of the map was born through a desire from stakeholders and consumers to gain more information about their product purchases, a desire Primark was happy to oblige with.

“Transparency for supply chain has always been a critical agenda,” Stewart said. “This wasn’t a case of us not having the data, we know where our products are made. For us, we felt there was a natural cadence for getting this information out and launching the website was the first step, with the Global Sourcing Map following on as a second phase.

“We know consumers and stakeholders are interested and we thought that publishing the Global Sourcing Map was a big step on that journey. We will continue to look at what we feel might be useful or interesting as we continue to develop our programme.”

Primark’s ethical trade and environmental sustainability team, consisting of more than 100 people across key sourcing countries, will update the Sourcing Map on a twice-yearly basis.

A statement from the retailer claimed that the supplier information had previously given Primark a “commercial advantage”. But, with 98% of the factories also manufacturing for other brands, Primark has decided on the decision to share more information and become more transparent.

Pre-competitive collaboration

According to Stewart, the last five to six years has seen a shift in perceptions regarding the willingness to collaborate. Driven by high-profile collaborative commitments such as the Bangladesh Accord, retailers have now realised that some aspects of business purpose can be tackled and strengthened pre-competitively. However, Stewart noted that “time will tell” whether transparency becomes a new commercial advantage for brands.

“I’ve definitely seen the situation and appetite for collaboration change significantly,” Stewart added. “In the last five to six years, there’s been an understanding in this area that environmental implications are pre-competitive and as a brand the best thing we can do is collaborate. We’ve seen the impact that joined-up leverage can have when we work together.”

Primark, which is also a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), invested significant sums into the Bangladesh Accord – a five-year, legally-binding agreement between global brands, retailers and trade unions to create a safer and more secure garment industry.

The retailer also works with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) on the Primark Sustainable Cotton Programme. So far, more than 6,000 farmers have benefitted from training through the programme, which has helped rural female farmers in India increase average profits by 247%. 

While Stewart expects the Global Sourcing Map to evolve over time, little information has been offered as to whether it will account for more environmental and social aspects – such as the cotton programme – other than the gender split.

Commenting on the announcement, the Ethical Trading Initiative’s executive director Peter McAllister added: “This is good news and Primark should be commended for their action. ETI recognises that embracing the transparency agenda not only takes commitment, but also requires significant time and effort to get right and in the case of global sourcing maps, keep up-to-date.

“Today, Primark joins the select but growing group of leading companies that disclose details of their supplier factories. It is one more step in meeting consumer expectations and we hope that other brands and retailers will follow this example.”

Matt Mace

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