Primark boss faces critics

Does Primark fit in the “Fair Trade Town” Bonn?

Discount fashion chain Primark faced criticism in a discussion held on Tuesday.

Bonn. Fashion discounter Primark is coming to Bonn in 2019. But is this fitting for the designated “Fair Trade Town” Bonn? Representatives from the city, commerce and other groups held a discussion with Primark boss Wolfgang Krogmann.

Ever since it became clear that Primark would open a store at the Bonn central train station, heated discussions have taken place.  Can a clothing chain selling T-shirts for three euros pay reasonable wages in the manufacturing countries?  The store is expected to open in 2019 in the new Maximilian Center being built in Bonn.  Does this reflect Bonn’s reputation as a sustainable and “Fair Trade Town”?  Bonn first received this designation in 2010 by the group “Transfair”.  It is one of around 2,000 cities worldwide which has been awarded this stamp of approval for its engagement towards fair trade.  

On Tuesday evening, the discussion came up in an event put on by the local Volkshochschule (Adult Education).  It was part of their series on "Inequality, Participation, Justice".  

"Working conditions need to be improved"

Some of the big topics of discussion were working conditions in the countries where the textiles were manufactured, the German employees and the influence of the city on retailer selection.  

Passt der Textil-Discounter Primark zur Fair-Trade-Stadt Bonn? Vertreter von Stadt, Handel, Vereinen und der Deutschland-Chef von Primark (2.v.r.) nehmen zu dieser Frage Stellung. FOTO: BARBARA FROMMANN

On Tuesday evening, the discussion came up in an event put on by the local Volkshochschule (Adult Education).

 

Gisela Burkhardt, Chairperson of the Board at Femnet and women’s labor rights champion, painted a bleak picture of production sites in Bangladesh.  “In the factories, women are humiliated and cursed at, and they have to work ten, twelve or 14 hours at a time,” she explained. Many fashion chains have their textiles manufactured there. 

Wolfgang Krogmann, head of Primark's Germany, said: "We are in agreement on this. The working conditions need to be improved. "  Primark had introduced controls for this purpose.  Employees have a say now, and working hours and wages are all regularly checked. In contrast to the Primark head, Burkhardt expressed heavy doubt about the effectiveness of those controls because it was women who were specifically under duress. 

“We must think about a reduction in consumption”

There was a noticeably large gap between consumer critics and trade representatives.  Adalbert von der Osten, Chief Executive of the Rhine-Sieg/ Euskirchen Retail Association, remarked that it was up to each person to decide what they bought or didn’t buy.  His comment was met with little understanding from the audience. 

Gesa Maschkowski from the Board of Directors of the Bonn Association, said, “ The consumption machine is being stoked up.  In this process, we must think about a reduction in consumption.”  Arnulf Marquardt-Kuron from the Bureau for Economic Development also took a position. “The freedom to make a contract is a precious good.”  The city could set up trading areas within the framework of the development plans, but whether investors now rented to Primark or small-scale businesses, this was in the hands of the landlord.  As Krogramm said, the lease agreement between Primark and investor Ten Brinke had already been signed.  

200 employees are expected to work for the discount fashion chain, which will be housed in 5,400 square meters of retail space in the Maximilian Center. A question from the public about whether Primark could still be prevented from coming to Bonn was - probably not. (Orig. text: Philipp Königs/ck Translation: ckloep)