Primark lit up the Internet on Monday, but not about must-haves and last-minute Christmas sales.
A note allegedly written by a factory worker in China was hidden in a pair of Primark socks and claimed that the socks were made in substandard working conditions. The buyer of the socks, Shahkiel Akbar, spread the message and the story exploded on social media Monday. The socks were reportedly purchased in Primark’s Newscastle store in the U.K.
A Primark spokeswoman disputed the claim, “The Primark name is being used to gain publicity for the plight of this individual. We have found no link at all between this individual and any of our suppliers’ factories in China. We think it is likely that the note was added after production and it is feasible it was added in transit or at a port.”
Another Primark spokesman said that the factory in question was inspected and that “Primark carries out unannounced inspections of its factories.” Executives at Primark, which has stores throughout the U.K. and Europe, declined to say if an investigation is ongoing.
Earlier this month, another U.K. shopper, who purchased Primark socks in the company’s Huddersfield store, allegedly found another handwritten note by Ting Kun Ding, who claimed to have been imprisoned for blackmail for having tried to expose corrupt government officials in China. Lucy Kirk, who said her father bought the Primark socks with the note, first spread that news by posting it online.
There have been instances in the past where distressed factory workers have written notes about their difficulties and hidden them in consumer goods. In the more recent instance in Newcastle, according to The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights associate director Barbara Briggs, “It happens from time to time.…when working conditions are lousy, which they often are, workers will try to get their story out any way they can.”
To that end, the IGLHR recently publicized photos taken by distressed workers in a China toy factory working under sub-par conditions, Briggs said. Noting the personal risk those employees took, Briggs said an increasing number of workers using their own cellphones and social media to document their unjust factory, bathroom and/or dormitory conditions.
In regards to Primark, further investigation would be needed, including interviews with other workers in the same factory, to substantiate the claim, Briggs said.
Founded in 1969, Primark is an Irish clothing retailer operating in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S. The company has dealt with its share of labor-related controversy. Following the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed more than 1,135 workers in April 2013, Primark has paid $14 million in aid and compensation.