On Monday, the discount clothing retailer Primark announced that they were ‘super proud’ to be partnering with LGBT equality charity Stonewall, and selling a range of merchandise for this year’s Pride season.
Prides up and down the country have expressed concern that the proceeds from this deal go not to the 140 organisations that put these events on, but rather to an organisation with a £5million reserve and which has never organised a Pride, and yet has been quick to criticise them. Pride organisations have to raise every penny to put on their events, and every year it’s a struggle. In recent years, a number of Pride events (such as Bridgwater Pride, Burnley Pride, and Bradford Pride) have been cancelled due to a lack of funds, though thankfully some are returning this year. Just last week, Newcastle’s Northern Pride announced they are scaling back because of a lack of sponsorship.
And quite legitimately, some in Europe are asking why Stonewall, a UK charity, should benefit from the sales of this range in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal.
I began asking Stonewall questions about this on Monday afternoon. In the last 48 hours, more than 200,000 people have seen these tweets, and hundreds have tweeted Stonewall directly. Stonewall have been unable to answer journalists’ questions. No-one doubts that Stonewall will put the funds they raise towards their important equality campaigns but they are doing it off the back of grassroots, volunteer organisations, that don’t have vast cash reserves.
And then questions started to be raised about where the items in this range are being produced. An early warning came in a photo posted on Twitter, showing that at least one of these t-shirts is produced in Turkey, the country ranked third worst in Europe for LGBTI equality, where Prides are banned, where police fire on Pride activists with rubber bullets and tear gas, and where the governor of the capital has banned all LGBTI events.
Primark’s Corporate Social Responsibility team admitted to me that in addition to Turkey, other products are produced in China and Myanmar.
In Myanmar, male homosexual acts are illegal and the penalty is up to ten years in prison. According to ILGA, there have been recent arrests. In China, whilst homosexual acts are not illegal, ILGA report that NGOs like Stonewall are banned by law.
Imagine that, for a moment. Imagine you’re gay, lesbian, bi or trans, and you live in one of those countries. You live your life under fear of family ostracisation, attack, arrest or worse, just for who you are. And you go to your low paid job in a Primark factory to find that you’re producing clothing for the UK that ‘celebrates’ being what you are not allowed to be. What a smack in the guts that must be.
Many Pride organisations up and down the country produce their own merchandise, which they sell to raise vital funds. Pride in London, for example, sells a range of ethically-sourced products which contribute tens of thousands of pounds to their huge costs. Those Prides that don’t produce their own merchandise lease stalls to retailers who sell Pride-themed products, generating an income on the rent they get. It’ll be pretty galling for Pride organisers to see people turn up in this Primark garb, knowing that not a penny goes to their Pride.
So there is a solution. People can buy their Pride merchandise not from Primark, but from Prides directly. Stonewall can allocate all the funds from this partnership to supporting Prides across the country, just as the UK Pride Organisers Network has suggested, which would go some way to repairing the already-strained relationship between Stonewall and Prides.
As it has transpired that the production of this range is in countries where homosexual acts are illegal and NGOs face clampdowns, Primark should agree to donate all the profits from these items, and not just a supposedly-generous 20%. It will be for the Pride community to decide how best to use the funds, including providing support for international organisations working to advance LGBTI human rights in Turkey, Myanmar and China.
Stonewall finally responded with a blog yesterday afternoon. The blog doesn’t answer any of the questions they have been asked. They’ve failed to answer how they will support the Pride movement - they seem to think that their mere presence at a Pride counts for support. Of even more concern, they have not said a word about the deep hypocrisy of these products being produced in countries where LGBT people’s lives are at risk daily.
To achieve their aims of ‘acceptance without exception’, Stonewall need to respond properly, and talk to the activists and people in the very community they claim to represent. I have asked them for a meeting, with colleagues from the UK Pride Organisers Network, and await their response. And if you see them at Birmingham Pride this weekend, make sure you tell them, there’s #NoPrideInPrimark.