Leading UK fashion retailers call for more protection for garment workers

Leading UK fashion retailers including Marks & Spencer, Joules, Asos, New Look and Next have joined MPs, investors and NGOs in writing a joint letter to home secretary Priti Patel calling for greater protection for garment factory workers.

The joint letter, coordinated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), proposes the government introduces statutory licensing of garment factories to ensure they all meet their legal obligations to employees and protect them from forced labour. It would also ensure payment of National Minimum Wage, VAT, PAYE, National Insurance, and holiday pay.

“Unless action is taken now, thousands more people will likely face exploitation,” the letter notes.

It follows recent reports that workers at one of Boohoo’s suppliers’ factories in Leicester were being paid 3.50 pounds per hour and were made to work when sick with Covid-19. Those reports caused the fast-fashion company’s shares to plummet in recent weeks. The company, which owns brands including Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, has since launched an independent review of its UK supply chain.

UK government urged to take action

“The BRC has repeatedly called on Government to take action to prevent labour exploitation in the UK. Recent reports in the media demonstrate the urgent need for action before more workers are needlessly taken advantage of. While there is no silver bullet, licensing is a critical step toward resolving this issue,” BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said in a statement.

“The public want to know that the clothes they buy have been made by workers who are respected, valued and protected by the law. Our members continue to stand firm against labour exploitation, and we hope the home secretary joins us in the fight to build a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry.”

MP Lisa Cameron MP, who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for textiles and fashion, added: “As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, we have a huge opportunity to make the UK a world-leading, ethical fashion and textile manufacturing industry, delivering better, highly-skilled jobs.

“It is crucial the home secretary seriously considers the urgent need to implement statutory licensing of garment factory owners and managers to ensure they are ‘Fit to Trade’. There is vast support for this initiative, and we need to see urgent action to prevent thousands more people facing exploitation taking place is some garment factories in the UK.”

Photo credit: Pexels, Artem Bali

 

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