BBC finds sweatshop film ‘probably’ faked

Flagship investigation programme to apologise to Primark

The BBC Trust has upheld an editorial complaint against Panorama brought by Primark in relation to a dispute about faked footage.

On 23rd June 2008, an hour long Panorama special entitled “Primark: On the Rack” was broadcast on BCC1, focussing on alleged use of child labour in India in the production of Primark clothing for sale in its high street stores.  The programme included undercover footage filmed by a journalist employed by Panorama in a Bangalore workshop of three young boys apparently working on Primark sequinned women’s tops.

Primark commissioned an investigation into how the film sequence was obtained, because it did not appear that the boys were performing any work on the tops which was recognised or was useful. The workshop and the boys were traced to the backstreets of Bangalore, and they, and the workshop owners, said that the Panorama journalist had provided them with 3 sample Primark tops, and told them to pretend to work on them. On the day before the sequence was filmed in Bangalore, the journalist had seen and filmed adult women workers sewing sequins onto the same tops, near Tirupur hundreds of miles from Bangalore, and had purchased samples.

In the course of investigation of the complaint by the BCC Editorial Complaints Unit, emails emerged sent by the journalist to the Panorama editorial team in London.  One was sent on the evening that the journalist had filmed the women near Tirupur and read: “I’m still in Tirapur in the south of India and heading to Bangalore a.m. … I have them [Primark] banged to rights … I have filmed two separate groups of children, aged between 9 and 13, hand beading and stitching Primark Summer Season blouses … The second group is in a slum on the outskirts of Tirapur, hand-beading sequined [sic] women’s tops fo [sic] Atmosphere – Primarks [sic] flagship womens [sic] wear range … they [Primark] have never been caught with anything as bad as this”.  Apart from locating the workshop in which children were “testing the stitching” in Tirupur, instead of Bangalore, this accurately described the film obtained in Bangalore.  There was no other film which matched this description.

The fact that the film was made on the day after this email, when the journalist was in Bangalore, was demonstrated by the hidden watermark on the film.

The BBC Trust concluded that “there was not one piece of irrefutable and conclusive evidence which would enable it to say for certain (i.e. beyond reasonable doubt) whether the footage was or was not staged”, but that on the balance of probabilities, it was.
The BBC Trust upheld Primark’s complaint, ordered Panorama to apologise to Primark, and required the BBC Executive to consider its position in connection with the Royal Television Society Award given to the programme in 2009.

Primark was represented in the complaint to the Editorial Complaints Unit and the appeal to the BBC Trust by 5RB’s James Price QC instructed by Herbert Smith.