Primark: Time rivals also pay Bangladesh factory victims

Laura Kuenssberg

Former Business Editor

Paul Lister, Primark's chief counsel, speaks to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

Six months ago today more than a thousand people were killed when a factory making clothes for our high streets collapsed.

The workers had been ordered back into the building even though there were fears about how safe it was.

Primark, which has built its reputation on budget conscious fashion, was one of the Western brands whose labels were found in the wreckage of the building.

Until today they have never spoken publicly about what happened or about how they have tried to fulfill their responsibilities to the victims of the worst ever disaster in the history of Bangladesh's enormous garment industry, which floods our high streets with keenly priced clothes.

A Primark label is seen in the garments left among the rubble following the Rana Plaza collapse. Credit: ITV News

But today the company has opened up, and has a simple demand for their rivals who were also in the building.

Paul Lister, the company's chief counsel, described the accident as "abhorrent" and "horrific".

Insisting it is possible to make clothes in Bangladesh without putting workers in danger he told me that Primark regularly makes its own unannounced checks on the 88 factories it uses and fixes problems where it finds them.

And for the first time, the company has exclusively showed us the details of the painstaking work it has done to try to track down the victims and survivors of the factory collapse.

Primark showed ITV News the work it has done to try to track down the victims and survivors of the factory collapse. Credit: ITV News

The company is the only firm so far, out of more than twenty western brands who were using suppliers in Rana Plaza, to have paid compensation systematically.

On our recent visit to Bangladesh we found chaos and confusion around the payments and victims and survivors who had been left with nothing.

Primark told us they have made more than three thousand payments and that they made huge efforts to track victims down, many had scattered around Bangladesh away from the capital city.

But Paul Lister, the company secretary, accepts setting up the payment scheme had taken longer than expected and had been extremely challenging.

As a result, he told me that the company will make a third short term compensation payment of $200 (£123) to survivors and families of those killed in the disaster, even those who were not working for Primark's supplier.

But in January, when they hope to begin their long term compensation scheme, the company will support only the 550 survivors or victims families who were working for them.

As a result, Lister made a very public plea, for the other companies, like Matalan and Bonmarche, to join them and pay up.

Breaking their silence, Primark appears frustrated that they have been the only firm so far to set up a compensation scheme.

Lister told me "the time is right" for other companies to "do the right thing" and pay too.

He said Primark realised early when the scale of the Rana Plaza disaster emerged that they had to do what was "appropriate" and not just track down the survivors and victims families, but set up a proper way of supporting them in the long term.

Despite the difficulties around setting up a scheme, clearly he believes that the company's rivals ought to do the same.

Today, we'll be asking the other brands like Bonmarche, Benetton and Matalan, how they plan to respond.

You can see more of what Primark had to say in our interview here.

And our previous exclusive reports from Bangladesh here.