Primark and BBC Panorama: the true story

Primark statement

 

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 then fed the lie, sourcing experts who believed the lie, teachers and pupils who viewed the programme in lessons, have all been badly let down.

Primark welcomes the decision of the BBC Trust which confirms that Panorama: “Primark on the Rack”, was based on fabrication and was littered with poor journalistic practices.  Panorama simply did not find child labour involved in the Primark supply chain as the programme sought to suggest but relied on fabricated footage to air a programme otherwise based on prejudice. Primark was forced to carry out its own investigation into the allegations made by the programme and, based on this, and staggeringly based on evidence in the possession of the BBC even prior to broadcast, Primark demonstrated the lie underpinning the programme.  Primark has had to persevere and pursue the matter for a period of 3 years.  Only now after 4 official investigations by the BBC has Primark been vindicated.

Primark welcomes the BBC Trust’s confirmation that it was quite wrong that Primark was forced to prove its innocence even though the BBC editorial guidelines require authentication and verification of material before broadcast.

Although today’s verdict concerns only the footage of the 3 boys in Bangalore, Primark notes that Dan McDougall, the journalist at the centre of the programme, alone took similar footage of a boy and a girl in a refugee camp, film also broadcast on the programme. Evidence about this footage only came into Primark’s possession at the end of this process and the company does not accept that footage as genuine, nor that it is evidence of child labour in Primark’s supply chain, but the company does not intend to pursue this matter further at this stage. There is no other footage of children working on Primark garments.

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 recognised 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 mischaracterisation of Primark’s business, its supply chain, and its ethics.   Sensationalising these issues by the use of fabricated journalism harms the very people whose lives retailers, trade unions and NGOs are all working to improve.

Panorama can be a fine maker of documentaries and, at its best, it is to be applauded, but the programme carries responsibilities which were disregarded. This lapse was compounded by the BBC’s complaints process. It is now for others to decide what steps should be taken at the BBC. But Primark hopes that no other individual or company is again subjected to such deception and ill-treatment.

A detailed account of Primark’s complaint and the activity that followed is set out below. Primark has consistently believed that the footage shown by Panorama of child labour in Bangalore was false for a number of reasons and the BBC were told this before broadcast.

 

Further background information

In summary, the footage purported to show child labour in Primark’s supply chain. Three boys in Bangalore were supposed to be making clothes for Primark in a backstreet workshop. This was supposed to be evidence that suppliers were using child labour on Primark clothing. Panorama’s accusation, based on fabricated evidence, was damaging to Primark’s reputation. This footage was a lie and the theory supported by the footage, that Primark’s supply chain was out of control (and included the widespread use of child labour) was equally untrue.

Primark believed from the outset this footage could not be genuine and brought it to the attention of the BBC programme team both before and after the broadcast, to the attention of the BBC director-general after broadcast, and then to the attention of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (the “ECU”), also after broadcast, in 2008. None of these strong representations were taken as seriously as they should have been given the gravity of the accusation.

In July 2009 the ECU reopened its inquiry into Primark’s complaint after the company submitted a substantial quantity of fresh evidence that gave rise to further grave concern over the authenticity of the footage used in the programme.

As the company investigated the BBC allegations, it unearthed detailed evidence that the footage had been faked by one individual, Dan McDougall. Throughout this episode, the BBC was unwilling to clarify the status of Dan McDougall in relation to the programme team, and it would appear that he was not a full-time employee of the BBC. At first the BBC said he was a “reporter employed by Panorama”. It only became clear as the second ECU process unfolded that he was a freelancer. Notwithstanding this indeterminate status, the BBC relied on his footage and his account of what he saw in Bangalore, and defended the footage throughout the complaints process – both footage and account now found by the BBC Trust to be false.

Despite overwhelming evidence, the ECU subsequently rejected Primark’s complaint after running a lengthy inquiry even though it admitted there were serious shortcomings and unanswered questions about the way the programme was made.

Primark subsequently appealed to the BBC Trust, which re-investigated the evidence. That evidence includes the following facts:

  • Dan McDougall kept no proper notes, nor any record, of his inquiries whatsoever
  • Witnesses say Dan McDougall bought three brown tops – later featured in the footage – in Pollachi (when Dan McDougall was staying in Tirupur), flew to Bangalore 300 km away , and then gave these tops to the  three boys, telling them to pretend to work on them
  • Dan McDougall told the Panorama deputy editor that he had filmed the three boys the day before he did so
  • Dan McDougall swapped his film tapes so as to make it appear that the three boys were part of a continuous investigation in Tirupur, India – and not where they actually were, in Bangalore some 300 km away. This deception was betrayed by a hidden watermark on the BBC film.

The Trust’s verdict today therefore brings to an end a complaints process that has lasted more than 36 months.

  • Timeline of events

  • Primark statement

  • Find out more

  • BBC apology

    BBC apology to Primark

  • Media enquiries

    If you are a journalist, blogger, educator or NGO and have any questions about our response to the Panorama programme, please get in touch.

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