Budget fashion chain Primark has said it was constantly on the watch for any slavery in its supply chain while dismissing the idea that low cost meant exploitation.

Paul Lister, head of Primark’s ethical trading team, said last month the retailer known for cheap, high turnover fashion kept its costs down by not spending on advertising and buying in bulk to achieve economies of scale.

After years of facing accusations of using “sweatshops” employing “slave labour” to produce T-shirts for just £3, Primark has this year started to talk publicly about what it is doing to ensure its supply chain is ethical.

Lister said Primark’s business model was designed to produce low cost goods but he acknowledged the garment supply chain was complicated and the retailer was always looking to spot any issues.

Primark uses 1,700 supplier factories globally to stock its 290 stores in Britain, Europe and the United States.

Lister said it was hard to know where cotton came from, so Primark started projects in the cotton fields of Gujarat in India in 2013 in an sustainable farming initiative known as Cotton Connect that recruits female smallholder farmers.

“We have now expanded to 10,000 farmers in India producing cotton,” said Lister.

Lister stressed it was important to see the benefits of employment in the developing world, with the factories used by Primark employing about 750,000 people which impacted 2.4 million people, factoring in families of workers.