BBC child labour footage ‘was probably faked’July 2011
The BBC Trust has admitted that footage purporting to show clothing retailer Primark using child labour was faked.
The BBC’s apology refers to a Panorama programme broadcast in June 2008, in which it is now confirmed that three young boys in Bangalore, supposedly making clothes for Primark in a backstreet workshop, were probably told to pretend to work on three shirts that a journalist had previously purchased.
The programme implied that Primark made widespread use of child labour in a supply chain that had little oversight. The BBC Trust found it ‘more likely than not’ that evidence supporting the claim had been fabricated.
Primark was forced to conduct its own investigations into the allegations in 2009, and claims the BBC possessed evidence of fake footage before the broadcast.
The documentary contributed to a ban on Primark, between early 2009 and early 2010, from making reference to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which it is a member, either in stores or on its website. Primark was fully reinstated to the ETI in February 2010.
Primark responded to the news in a statement, saying: ‘The confirmation that faked material was broadcast by Panorama is extraordinary. Millions of people have been deceived by Panorama. Viewers who watched the programme, shoppers who were fed the lie, sourcing experts who believed the lie, and teachers and pupils who viewed the programme in lessons, have all been badly let down.
‘The company remains wholly committed to ensuring that its customers can continue to shop at Primark confident in its commitment to its ethics and its values. To this end the company continues to work hard to improve working practices among its suppliers and these steps have been recognized by NGOs expert in the field.
‘Like all clothing retailers, Primark knows that sourcing in the developing world is difficult and needs constant care to ensure the best possible working conditions.
‘But this film was a deliberate mischaracterization of Primark’s business, its supply chain, and its ethics. Sensationalizing these issues by the use of fabricated journalism harms the very people whose lives retailers, trade unions and NGOs are all working to improve.’
The company says, however, that it does not intend to pursue the matter any further at this stage.
Dan McDougall, the BBC journalist at the centre of the row, rejects the allegation that evidence was fabricated, saying the trust’s findings are ‘deeply damaging to independent investigative journalism’.
The BBC documentary did significant damage to Primark’s reputation, but it also spurred the company to review its CSR strategy.
It recruited ethical trading staff in sourcing countries, poached Libby Annat as its new senior ethical trade manager from Marks & Spencer, and developed a raft of new ethical supply chain management policies.
The ETI held a year-long investigation into the allegations that were first aired by the BBC, but decided not to take action against the clothing retailer, partly because it had been judged to have made ‘enormous strides’ on ethical supply chain management.
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