UK garment factory workers ‘at higher risk’ of Covid deaths

18 February 2021

A campaign group has called on the UK government to “make firms liable for abuses in their supply chains” and protect workers from Covid risks.

Labour Behind the Label (LBL) cited data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that showed women working in UK garment factories were four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the average woman worker.

LBL said the data served as a “stark reminder of working conditions in Britain’s garment industry” both before and after the pandemic. 

It highlighted Boohoo’s poor oversight of its supply chain in Leicester, where investigations found employees did not have adequate PPE and had been paid less than the legal minimum wage. 

They said under current laws “Boohoo is not properly liable for the behaviour of its subcontractors”.

Dominique Muller, policy director at LBL, said: “The failings of the government's approach to labour enforcement and health and safety alongside the failure of brands taking responsibility for the workers has led to a perfect storm of exploitative and dangerous working conditions. 

“Brands, unions and government agencies must now work together to create a binding set of obligations to protect those most vulnerable.”                   

As a result, LBL and trade unions called for the government to introduce “mandatory human rights due diligence legislation” to hold firms to account for supply chain abuses.

LBL also called for an end to “unacceptable purchasing practices” that “drive prices down and demand unrealistic production times, encouraging subcontracting and exploitative labour practices”.

It also said there should be concerted action by the government and brands to ensure that all workers in the UK garment industry are protected from labour rights abuses and unsafe working conditions.

Lee Barron, Midlands regional secretary at the TUC, said: “Everyone should be safe at work. The appalling working practices in the UK garment industry have been an open secret for years. But no serious action has been taken.”

Barron added there needs to be a change to the law and called for the government to use its delayed employment bill to “make firms liable for abuses in their supply chains”.

“No company should be able to wash its hands of responsibility if their subcontractors mis-treat staff and deny them their basic rights.”

Moves are taking place in Germany and the EU that would make firms legally liable for human rights issues in their supply chains.

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