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Fashion retailers take action to tackle modern slavery

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Leading UK fashion retailers, including John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, New Look, Next, River Island and Shop Direct, have all signed up to a joint agreement with enforcement bodies to help eradicate modern slavery from the UK textiles industry.

The Apparel and General Merchandise Public and Private Protocol commits signatories to work together to eradicate slavery and exploitation in fashion and textile supply chains. Each retailer who has signed up has pledged to raise awareness to prevent worker exploitation, protect vulnerable and exploited workers, disrupt exploitative practices and help bring criminals to justice.

The retailers will work with enforcement bodies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Employment Agency Standards inspectorate, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), HMRC, Immigration Enforcement and the Insolvency Service, who have also signed the document, which is supported by industry bodies British Retail Consortium (BRC), UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), and auditing system Fast Forward.

The announcement follows the latest meeting of the Modern Slavery Taskforce, created by Prime Minster Theresa May, which discussed how to better identify and tackle forced labour in business supply chains.

“Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime that denies its victims of liberty, and it is disturbing to think that some of the products we buy could have been produced by someone exploited into forced labour,” said Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement. “As global leaders in the fight against modern slavery, I am clear that this will not be tolerated in the UK – and our consumers won’t stand for it either.”

The UK’s multibillion fashion industry employs tens of thousands of people, and industry bodies such as the UK Fashion and Textile Association state that this can make fashion companies vulnerable to “unscrupulous providers and criminals who exploit workers for their labour”. It is hoped that this new partnership, signed by leading British retailers, will enhance efforts to tackle modern slavery in supply chains and reassure workers and customers of the efforts being made by the UK industry.

UK Fashion retailers and enforcement bodies strengthen commitment to tackle modern slavery

May added: “I welcome the action being taken by businesses which are leading the way in being open and transparent about the modern slavery risks they face, and have pledged to raise awareness to prevent slavery, protect vulnerable workers and help bring more criminals to justice.

“But with Modern Slavery police operations at an all-time high, clearly there is more to do to stamp out this vile crime and prevent criminal groups from operating in the shadows of supply chains to exploit people for commercial gain.”

Adam Mansell, chief executive of UKFT, said in a press release: “Through initiatives such as the protocol, UKFT is committed to working with manufacturers to help ensure that their employment practices, welfare standards and quality assurance procedures are higher than those required by law. A long term, equitable relationship between retailers and manufacturers will help the UK fashion and textile manufacturing sector grow and develop.

“We also actively encourage consumers to think very carefully about how their fashion and textile products are made. As the costs of raw materials and labour increase, the consumer will need to accept that it will not be possible to continually reduce prices – wherever the goods are made.”

GLAA director of operations, Ian Waterfield, added: “The signing of this protocol is a significant step because it sends a clear message of intent from both the industry and law enforcement that exploiting people for their labour will not tolerated. The GLAA is the enemy of illegitimate working practices and criminality, and a friend to legitimate businesses targeted by those who commit exploitation.”

Image: Pexels

John Lewis
Marks and Spencer
UK Fashion and Textile Association