Manufacturers have voiced their concern that UK factories adopting unscrupulous practices are trashing the domestic industry’s reputation after reports emerged that a Leicester clothing manufacturer could be fined £190,000 for employing 19 illegal workers.
A raid by the UK Border Agency on the House of Creation factory last month found that 19 staff, all Indian nationals, did not have permission to work in the UK.
The raid has left some manufacturers concerned that all factories, even those that implement proper checks on staff, may now be tarred with the same brush.
“This issue gives the industry a really bad name,” said Rachel Bromley, co-director of Sienna Couture in Battersea, London, which manufactures womenswear for the luxury, premium and mainstream markets. She added that some factories may choose to cut corners and use illegal workers because of increasing cost pressures.
“Manufacturers are being squeezed from every direction,” said Bromley. “Everything [costs] is going up and up, and yet the person making the most profit - the retailer - is negotiating down and down.”
Snahal Patel, director of Jack Masters in Leicester, which manufactures knitwear for the premium and mainstream markets, said: “It doesn’t just look bad for the industry, it also looks bad for manufacturing in Leicester. I wouldn’t want people to think we are all like that, as we make proper checks on staff.”
House of Creation is understood to dispute accusations it deliberately employed illegal workers as cheap labour.
A source close to the company it had been an error: “Their visas ran out and we didn’t realise.”
However, the source added that cost pressures were an issue for the factory. “Cost is an issue. We only get very low prices from retailers,” he said.
Manufacturers agreed the House of Creation case highlighted the need for an industry-wide Kitemark scheme to show garments have been produced in compliant factories.
Benny Hartop, managing director of Hawick Knitwear in Scotland, which manufactures knitwear, cashmere and lambswool for the premium and mainstream markets, said: “A Kitemark system would absolutely benefit the industry.”