BBC “must apologise” over Primark Panorama documentary

Sections of 2008 film represented "a rare lapse in quality" says BBC Trust

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The BBC will apologise to Primark after the BBC Trust partially upheld a complaint made by the clothing retailer against the Panorama programme.

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The BBC Trust concluded that it was “more likely than not” that a section of footage used in a documentary showing boys in a Bangalore factory “testing the stitching” on Primark products “was not genuine”.  The governing body also apologised to Primark for what they described as “a rare lapse in quality” by the BBC. 

Primark: behind the Label, originally shown in 2008 on BBC1, was the culmination of a six-month undercover investigation by Panorama into the retailer.  It alleged that some of Primark’s Indian suppliers were subcontracting work to smaller companies who were in turn using child labour to “test” products that ended up on the retailer’s shelves. 

Primark subsequently terminated contracts with three Indian suppliers, stating that the BBC film had helped “to identify that illegal subcontracting had been taking place and to take action accordingly”.

Investigating the complaint that a section of the programme was not genuine, the BBC Trust examined undercover footage and spoke to a number of witnesses.  They identified several discrepancies in the footage, including the size of needles being used for intricate stitching appearing too large and the absence of further Primark clothes in the footage beyond those garments directly in the hands of the workers.  

Inconsistencies in emails between a journalist in India and the production team in the UK were also noted.  

Alison Hastings, chair of the trust’s editorial standards committee, admitted that the programme had fallen short of the “highest standards of accuracy”.

“While it’s important to recognise that the programme did find evidence elsewhere that Primark was contravening its own ethical guidelines, there were still serious failings in the making of the programme,” she added.

A spokesperson for Primark welcomed the ruling, saying: “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.”

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Dan McDougall, the undercover journalist who filmed the footage in question, said the finding was “unjust” and “flawed”.