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Call for hard-hitting response to Leicester low-pay allegations

The government and industry are being urged to issue a “hard-hitting and uncompromising response” to low wages and poor working conditions at UK garment manufacturing firms in Leicester, which supply major fashion retailers.

Channel 4 Dispatches: Britain's Cheap Clothes

Channel 4 Dispatches: Britain’s Cheap Clothes

Channel 4 Dispatches: Britain’s Cheap Clothes

The sector has come under scrutiny from a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, which alleges that some UK workers in some sub-contracted factories are being paid less than half the national living wage and are being exposed to conditions that pose a serious fire risk.

Factories implicated in the programme, including Fashion Square and United Creations, were producing clothes for New Look, River Island, Boohoo and Missguided.

New Look, River Island and Boohoo said the factories in question had been delisted because they failed to meet the standards expected. Suppliers were told not to subcontract further orders to the factories, but the instructions were allegedly ignored, in breach of contract.

The situation is so grave in Leicester – responsible retailers must consider how they conduct their business in the city

ETI spokeswoman Debbie Coulter

Boohoo emphasised that the factory it was linked to was not a direct supplier. The etailer said it was not aware the factory was being used, but it has since visited to go through its standards. Missguided has suspended production with the factory with immediate effect and said it is ”committed to finding a resolution to these concerns with the best interests of the workers as a priority”.

River Island and New Look are both members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which is calling for agencies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the Health and Safety Executive, HM Revenue and Customs, politicians and others to act.

“The full force of the law should be applied,” said ETI spokeswoman Debbie Coulter. “Some local factory owners are preying on vulnerable groups, including South Asian women with limited English or undocumented migrant workers.”

However she said retailers must also address transparency issues and is urging its members to consider imposing significant sanctions against factories that breach contracts.

“The situation is so grave in Leicester – with wages hardly wages at all, and sometimes appalling health and safety violations – that responsible retailers must now consider how they conduct their business in the city,” said Coulter.

ETI is calling on retailers to address costing strategies, including ring-fencing labour costs. It wants them to work more with trade unions, as it believes a unionised workforce will result in better working conditions and a safer environment.

It also said audits must be fit for purpose, the right questions must be asked by experienced auditors, workers must be engaged and there must be collaboration across the sector.

“Leicester is important,” she confirmed. ”It is a major part of the re-emergence of UK garment manufacturing. We know there are good business practices within some parts of the sector, but very low wages and poor working conditions remain, are completely unacceptable and must be addressed.”


Readers' comments (12)

  • There is no resurgence of UK clothing manufacture if pay is half minimum wage. Seriously, how can these retailers be members of an ethical trading initiative? Presumably to blame others when they've been found out.

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  • Eric Musgrave

    If they are serious about stamping out this disgraceful situation, River Island, New Look, Missguided and Boohoo must name all their suppliers that sub-contracted out to the businesses named in the programme. They know who they are.

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  • It would make me question working for one the retailers named with association like this.

    The retailers involved seriously need to step up their activity within Ethical Trade to stamp this out. Its ok saying "internal investigation" but action is needed too. I really hope Drapers and dispatches follow this up. If UK manufacturing is going to increase, practices like this need to go. Completely unacceptable.

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    I have seen a huge increase in demand for UK manufacturing over the last few years and there are many fantastic garment manufacturers here who pay above the minimum wage.
    I do hope that this does not cause a knee-jerk reaction amongst the retailers to pull their business out of the UK, as this would seriously damage all of the great work that the GOOD manufacturers have been doing.
    Statements such as the one above from the ETI do not help either. Implying that all of Leicester is a bit dodgy and that retailers should reconsider how they work with suppliers there will just cause a mass exodus and the good places will end up closing down too :(

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  • Back in the late 90's I attended an early ETI meeting and said then "Lets walk to some sweatshops here in London less than a mile away, no need to visit far flung exotic places for a fact finding tour". Nothing changes and nothing will until the government actually bites and takes hard and serious action and meters out harsh financial punishment to the retailers. It's no good giving the job of physically policing the system to desk-bound execs who have never worked in a small factory.Recruit people who have actually worked in these sweatshops, those that know how the system works and knows all the dodges then you will get results.

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  • most retailers have seriously under-staffed and under-funded ethical and sourcing departments. For example a key high street retailer selling mens, kids, womens, clothing, accessories, footwear etc being sourced from many hundreds of factories around the world employs only one sourcing manager, an admin assistant and one member of staff focussing on ethical issues, across the entire brand. Nowhere near sufficient. ALL retailers must take these issues more seriously and invest much more in these critical business areas. There must also be more naming and shaming and better education throughout the retailers, from personal experience I have worked with retailers who do not give a damn, and just adopt a tick box approach when forced to. Our industry really needs to get its act together. These reports from Leicester are merely the tip of the iceberg.

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  • Anyone connected with the Industry cannot be remotely surprised by this. It should not happen - agreed - but it always will this case as the clothing trade lacks integrity. Period.

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  • Name their suppliers !? Do turkeys vote for Christmas ?

    Do you think any of these 'retailers' care about the provenance of their throwaway fast fashion products ? Do you think the buyers care ?

    All they're interested is in the bottom line and at what price a product can be bought and sold for.. Wherever this maybe in the world.. Do you honestly think they're bothered where the product is coming out of? Who is making it ? What conditions ?

    Do you honestly believe a item being sold for £10 if the mark up is 3.3 x can be produced packed and shipped in the uk for £2!? Where the minimum wage is £7?

    Do you think if it was possible they would have a vertically integrated model where they would own the factories which are on their doorstep and keep even more of the profit !?

    They don't as they know what's going on and what goes and it will continue to go on..

    They're totally complicit and provide the furtive environment for this to flourish simply because of greed

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  • 8 comments and only 2 put their name to them. Have some bottle people-if you feel strongly on something why hide behind your comment?

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  • Anon comment 2 above has it spot on.
    The buyers and retailers all know but hide behind the fact that they don't 'see'. They push the supplier to the bone whilst getting there X 3.3 min mark up without any guilt as it's not 'theur'probkem is it? No, it's the supplier every time.
    As Anon says above, go on, own your own factories but why not? Because they know what's going on and it's them that is causing it through their pricing policies. I'm so glad to be out if this industry now, having moved onto new ventures after 30 years in this godforsaken industry where design/ suppliers are paid as little as possible and held in very low regard.

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