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clothes chain throws its hat into the ethical trading ring

September 2006

One of the UK’s largest high street clothes retailers, Primark, has shown an increased commitment to corporate responsibility by joining the Ethical Trading Initiative.

By signing up, Primark, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods with more than 15,000 staff in 126 stores in the UK, Ireland and Spain, has committed itself to apply the ETI base code throughout its supply chain. The code is a set of commitments covering wages, overtime, health and safety, discrimination and other international labour standards.

The UK-based promotional goods and giftware business Supremia has also joined the ETI, becoming the 38th company to sign up. Supremia sources products such as clocks, watches, bags, footballs and luggage for promotions by Pepsi, Norwich Union and Conde Nast, among other clients.

However, the ETI received a setback recently when the supermarket chain Somerfield withdrew its membership. The ETI expressed its ‘regret’ at the decision, which followed a takeover of the chain by financier Robert Tchenguiz and venture capital company Apax Partners. The ETI lost the retail chain Littlewoods in similar circumstances in 2003, when it was bought by an investment company controlled by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay.

Somerfield, an ETI founder member, said it had decided against renewing membership after a review of its ‘short- and medium-term business priorities’.

However, it claimed the decision did not indicate a looser commitment to ethical trading. ‘We will continue to invest in our monitoring and audit systems to ensure we source from suppliers with approved standards of employee welfare,’ it said.

Stephen Ridge, associate director for quality assurance at Somerfield, told EP the company now wanted to approach ethical trading in ‘a slightly different way’, partly by collating its own information on ethical trading audits. The company recently purchased software enabling it to do this.

‘We have learned a lot over the last seven or eight years and feel we are now reasonably well placed to get on with this initiative in our own way,’ he said.




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