'Exploitation' costs UK garment workers £27m

12 October 2020

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is demanding action from home secretary Priti Patel over labour exploitation in UK garment factories.

The BRC and Lisa Cameron MP (SNP), chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, have written to Priti Patel saying there had been no “significant action from government to bring this injustice to an end”.

The organisations initially wrote to Patel in July, calling for the government to introduce a licensing scheme for garment factories in the UK, following reports of worker exploitation linked to retailers including Boohoo and Quiz

The letter said a 'fit-to-trade' licensing scheme “would protect workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment, ensuring payment of national minimum wage, VAT, PAYE, national insurance, holiday pay and health and safety”.

The scheme would encourage retailers to source more of their clothing from the UK, and support the development of an “ethical, world-leading garment manufacturing industry”.

However, the organisations said since the letter was sent in July, exploited garment workers have been denied over £2.1m a week, equating to around £27m in lost earnings.

Cameron said: “Right now, we have an opportunity to create a more ethical and sustainable fashion manufacturing industry in the UK, providing better jobs and boosting the economy at a time when it is needed most.

“It is vital the home secretary takes action to introduce a licensing scheme for UK garment manufacturers and puts the rights of workers at the heart of the industry. Without urgent action thousands more people face exploitation.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, added: “Despite numerous reports in the media, and a previous letter to the home secretary signed by over 50 MPs and peers and more than 40 retailers, investors and NGOs, we have not seen any significant action from government to bring this injustice to an end. All the while garment workers are robbed of tens of millions of pounds in wages.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Exploiting vulnerable workers for commercial gain is despicable and we expect businesses to do all they can to tackle abuse and exploitation in their supply chains.” 

They added the Home Office would continue to target employers who flout the rules by not paying workers the national minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Boohoo has hired Andrew Reaney in the newly created role of director of responsible sourcing and group product operations.

Reaney, who joined Boohoo in September, was previously director of product operations at Primark. 

The appointment comes as an independent review conducted by Alison Levitt QC said Boohoo’s monitoring of its Leicester supply chain was “inadequate for many years”.

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