Brands have stopped sourcing from Leicester due to concerns around modern slavery, according to the UK watchdog.
Dame Sara Thornton, independent anti-slavery commissioner, spoke out after a Sunday Times investigation found a Leicester factory supplying Boohoo was paying staff £3.50 an hour. The national minimum wage for those over 25 is £8.72 an hour.
This followed a report from NGO Labour Behind the Label that claimed workers at factories supplying Boohoo in Leicester were told to come into work even if they had coronavirus symptoms.
Leicester is currently under local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases.
Thornton told the Today programme: “Quite a few brands and retailers have approached me and said they have stopped sourcing from Leicester because there are real concerns.
“The Covid pandemic has highlighted and revealed pre-existing problems. We have had companies that we have known haven’t paid the minimum wage and of course they don’t care about the health and wellbeing of their staff.”
She said greater law enforcement was required but added: “Of course the retailers have a responsibility. They need to go beyond superficial modern slavery statements, beyond audit, and really work with suppliers: ‘Can we factor in the true cost of labour into the things we are purchasing from this company?’
“If we did there is no way a dress could cost five or 10 pounds.”
Boohoo said it was investigating the claims in the Sunday Times. “Boohoo remains committed to supporting UK manufacturing and is determined to drive up standards where this is required,” the company said in a statement.
“Where help and support for improvement is required we have and will continue to provide it, to ensure that everyone working to produce clothing in Leicester is properly remunerated, at least the national minimum wage, fairly treated and safe at work.
“However, we will not hesitate to immediately terminate relationships with any supplier who is found not to be acting within both the letter and spirit of our supplier code of conduct.”
Boohoo said sourcing from the UK was not based on price. “Our support for UK manufacturing is not driven by price; in fact, overseas pricing is much more competitive. Our international distribution centre is located in the UK and having a local supply base enables shorter lead times and supports our agile business model.”
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