This product is very unsustainable, predominantly because of the environmental and social impacts of cotton on the environment, coupled with Primark’s lack of pioneering for sustainable cotton, which is worse than other TNCs such as ASOS.
This product is made of 100% cotton, information which was difficult to find. Primark have significantly expanded their sustainable cotton programme as of 2019, committing to train 160,000 by 2022 across India, Pakistan and China in association with agricultural experts CottonConnect and the Self-Employed Women’s Association. However, it is unclear as to how many products contain this sustainable cotton and where the cotton comes from. One does not need to be known to appreciate the devastating impacts of cotton on the environment. Cotton uses 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides, which is incredibly toxic to thousands of litres of drinking water which has been linked to an increase in miscarriages. This disproportionately affects those on low incomes who are unable to move from villages that have a less healthy environment. 90% of cotton farmers are in low income countries. Additionally, it takes 2700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt. This extracts much of the natural water supplies among cotton growing areas; for example, the Aral Sea shrunk by 85% as a result of extreme water sequestration from cotton production. This has devastating impacts on the local communities within Kazakhstan, such as entire fishing villages no longer able to sustain themselves due to fish stocks plummeting.
Therefore, given the lack of clarity on Primark’s website and the known impacts of cotton, it can be said that there is a clear lack of sustainability and that Primark can do a much better job.
Primark’s sustainable cotton program has seen transformative results in water usage, agrochemical use, yield and average profit; for example, average farmer profit increased by 200% which is very socially sustainable given that primary producers are often neglected within supply chains as key stakeholders. Farmers are trained by CottonConnect in the most appropriate farming techniques for their land, from seed selection to harvest. This includes seed sowing, water and pesticide use, cotton picking, fibre quality, grading and storage. Whilst it is evident that Primark are scrupulous in their attempts to integrate sustainable farming methods into their supply chain, this must be replicated on a much larger scale to have a meaningful impact on sustainable futures, given the number of products that they roll out each year.
Additionally, whilst they have paid close(r) attention to their primary producers, they have not addressed all stages of their supply chain in such great detail; for example, despite attempts at environmental consciousness in the manufacturing process such as through the Greenpeace Detox Commitment and the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Roadmap, dyes and chemicals used by Primark still decrease environmental health in low- to middle-income countries like Indonesia by polluting the natural environment. It is not enough to use non-carcinogenic chemicals in products; it is Primark’s responsibility to fully minimise their impact on the environment, which involves using less dye altogether and controlling waste from factories (i.e. increasing circularity). Therefore, Primark has a long way to go in order to achieve sustainability across its entire manufacturing process.
Primark has an extensive Code of Conduct when it comes to environmental sustainability which attempts to manage the entire supply chain through performance improvement initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition which
Primark claims that they are committed to transparency by publishing a Global Sourcing Map in 2018, which represents 95% of products sold by Primark, which given the size of the corporation and its global reach is impressive.
In terms of Primark’s indirect impacts on the environment, these are acknowledged by the Energy Management System which covers stores, offices and distribution centres. Over the next year, energy consumption is expected to be reduced by approximately 60%.