Business ethical misconduct – Primark – Alleged use of child labour

Competition is not a new concept in any industry, and as the dynamics of the markets continue to change, the competition will only increase. In efforts to remain favorably competitive, many major companies have focused on increasing their productivity without increasing the cost of production. The fashion industry is mostly synonymous with this tendency. Notably, most fashion companies have their cloth-making industries in countries that impose low costs including cheap labor. This has been aimed at drastically cutting their cost of productions and therefore get a cost leadership in the market. Countries such as China, Vietnam and poorer European countries have been sort after by many multinational companies. This on the other hand has caused an increased in cases in child labor in most of the aforementioned countries. One of the biggest fashion company in the UK, Primark, has found itself face to face with public discontentment following its alleged advocacy for child labor. This has resulted to outrage from the public which has forced the company to quickly address the issue

While child labor does not agree with human rights, some countries follow the practice, and some have even legalized it (Khan et al., 2007). However, UK condemns the practice hence any organization found to indulge in this practice is considered to be in violation of human rights and in contempt of national laws. When Primark was launched in the UK, its flagship store which is located on the Oxford Street sold over one million garments in just ten days. Publicly, Primark is known to be against child labor, and this was evidenced when the company announced having discontinued business relations with suppliers alleged to indulge in child labor in India. This move was based on evidence gathered BBCs Panorama program. The documentary a provided in-depth understanding of the things that many people never came to associate with the company. In the documentary there were narrations where children noted that they were paid as little as 60p each and every day so as to work in refugee camps. One narration was that of Mantheesh, a young boy that had fled from Sri Lanka, who noted that they were being manipulated to work for the company in return for a little pay. The working conditions on the other hand were very poor with the aforementioned kid highlighting that they were forced to work at time despite there being poor lighting emanating from a candle. The revelation further highlighted that middlemen were utilized by the subcontracted factories to hire the children that were located at a refugee camp. It is the mandate of every company that opts to outsource production to ensure that the companies outsourced are operating within the laid down regulations set by the host country and international bodies. Ignorance of not properly auditing the outsourced company can’t be an excuse that the consumer may be willing to accept. It is therefore imperative that companies become proactive in identifying rouge manufacturers and not reactive as highlighted by Primark’s case. If BBC never brought the issue up it is certain that the unethical acts would have prolonged for months and even year.

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Despite Primark’s move to sack these suppliers, the panorama program also found a chain of other suppliers linked to Primark alleged to engage in child labor. Some of these factories were found to engage workers aged 5-17 years old. What’s worse was the finding that these minors worked in a poor environment and had to make do with meager wages. Notably, business ethics require that organizations indulge in the generally accepted code of conduct in their pursuit of competitiveness (Humphries, 2013). However, most organization have become notorious in circumventing this requirement owing to the need for the low cost of production and cheap labor. Some of the companies that have in the past been accused of child have been known to lock some of its workers in the workshops while trade unions and the government paying little attention to avert this problem.

Primark has been alleged to deceive consumers by placing advertisements that indicate its efforts in fighting child labor. This approach by the company is said to enable it to increase sales yet the behind the scenes the company advocates for child labor directly or indirectly. To a large extent, the move by Primark to discontinue operations with the three suppliers was more of the public show intended to paint a favorable brand image for the company. This assertion is backed by the panorama research that unveiled many more factories in India synonymous with child labor yet supplying Primark (Singh, 2013). It is important to note that while the factories may be located in India, Primark must have knowledge of what goes on in the factories. This is expected considering that Primark has to ensure that the quality of its brand is not compromised. In other words, while the company may attempt to distance itself from accusations of child labor, it has played a significant role in encouraging the vice.

Primark is known to own a number of sweatshops, which are synonymous with socially unapproved working conditions. Additionally, workers in these shops may be subjected to long working hours with minimal wages. In order to minimize the concerns and allegations of child labor, Primark can opt to close all these sweatshops. Business ethics require that the employees at the very basic be offered favorable wages, favorable working condition and not be subjected to long working hours (Tai and Chuang, 2014). The tendency to indulge the workers in long working hours increases the productivity of the company but that comes at the detriment of the workers. Notably, subjecting workers to long working conditions with poor wages has a ripple effect on families of these workers and the community as a whole.

One of the practices embedded in the business ethics code of conduct is the corporate social responsibility (Lindgreen and Swaen, 2010). Each organization has its own set of core values, which affect every stakeholder within the organization. It is important to note that an organization has both internal and external stakeholders. Some of the internal stakeholders include employees working within the organization and the management. External stakeholders include suppliers, consumers, and shareholders among others. Notably, employees of the suppliers are stakeholders as well though indirectly. However, the core values of the organization say like Primark affect the employees of the supplier as well. On this note, organizations like Primark ought to consider the concerns of the stakeholders in decision-making and policy implementation. In so doing, the company will manage to satisfy the stakeholders which upholding business ethics.

 

References

Khan, F.R., Munir, K.A. and Willmott, H., 2007. A dark side of institutional entrepreneurship: Soccer balls, child labor and postcolonial impoverishment. Organization Studies, 28(7), pp.1055-1077.

Humphries, J., 2013. Childhood and child labor in the British industrial revolution. The Economic History Review, 66(2), pp.395-418.

Singh, R., 2013. Child labor in India. Anusandhanika, 5(1/2), p.44.

Lindgreen, A. and Swaen, V., 2010. Corporate social responsibility. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12(1), pp.1-7.

Tai, F.M. and Chuang, S.H., 2014. Corporate social responsibility. Ibusiness, 6(03), p.117.