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Primark, Topshop and ASOS defend practices in Parliament

Primark, Arcadia, ASOS were among some of the retailers who had executives and representatives appear before the Environmental Audit Committee to answer questions on sustainability in their businesses.

This was part of the Environmental Audit Committee’s ongoing inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry. Representatives from Marks and Spencer, Boohoo and Burberry were also present.

Paul Smith, head of product quality and supply of Missguided, attended in the place of CEO Nitin Passi, who was criticised by the committee for refusing to give evidence relating to the online retailer’s practices.

Mary Creagh MP chaired the meeting asked Primark how it could justify selling its T-shirts for as little as £2 or £3, asking how the company could make a profit on the items. Paul Lister, head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability team, said: “Primark has never done any significant advertising at all, and that can save us in any year £100m to £150m, compared to some of our larger rivals. That goes straight into price. That keeps our pricing low. It’s our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt.”

Boohoo was also questioned about its low prices, with Creagh asking how the company could sell dresses for £5 as its suppliers are based in the UK where the minimum wage is for those aged 21 to 24 is £7.38.

All the companies were also asked about the minimum age for factory workers, where Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks and Spencer said in countries where the minimum working age was 15 the company understood the risk and worked with local NGOs and government officials to spot them. He said: “The more you have people on the ground, the more you hear, the more you can respond to that.”

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