A report into working conditions in the Leicester garment industry has found workers being paid below the minimum wage and breaches in health and safety standards.
The research, carried out by the University of Leicester for the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), also found an absence of employment contracts and poor enforcement of labour regulations and standards.
The report said the industry had seen the “emergence of new business models that are competitive in a globalised industry” and “integrated into global supply chains”, while the average size of a garment manufacturer in the UK had fallen by more than 60 per cent over the past two decades. In 2013 82 per cent of firms employed less than 10 people.
The report said “sourcing and purchasing practices as well as product and labour market regulations have in many ways resulted in a new, very different industry which is dominated by small firms, fragmented supply chains, a largely vulnerable workforce and the absence of enterprise-level industrial relations and worker representation”.
“Extensive research within Leicester as a UK sourcing hub found that the majority of garment workers are paid way below the national minimum wage, do not have employment contracts, and are subject to intense and arbitrary work practices,” said the report.
In response ETI has launched a programme to promote ethical purchasing and improve working conditions in Leicester.
ETI said it would be working with suppliers to provide training and support and “helping them build robust management systems and to ensure wages meet legal requirements”, while also promoting good purchasing practices among retail buyers.
“The focus is on building a fair trading environment, where responsible Leicester-based suppliers and manufacturers benefit through stronger relationships, longer-term investment and competitive advantage," the organisation said.
Debbie Coulter, ETI head of programmes, said: “Leicester is an important manufacturing centre for many fashion brands and retailers and is part of a re-emergence in UK textiles manufacturing.
“We know there are good business practices within some parts of the sector, but this research has also found evidence of serious and endemic labour rights issues. No worker should be paid below the national minimum wage, or work in precarious conditions where they are at risk of exploitation. These are serious issues that need to be addressed with urgency, if this sector is going to thrive and prosper.”
☛ An interview with new ETI chairman Philip Chamberlain will appear in the March issue of Supply Management.