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Talking Business: Illegal practices in UK factories are the exception, not the rule

As an industry, we condemn the illegal practices seen in the factories featured on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and call on enforcement agencies such as HMRC to investigate and take immediate action, says the UKFT’s Adam Mansell

The overwhelming majority of UK clothing and textile factories operate in a transparent and ethical way. It is therefore all the more disappointing that a minority of companies continue to engage in illegal practices: paying workers below the legal minimum wage and failing to provide suitable working conditions. It is essential that this issue be resolved urgently and effectively.

There has been a steady resurgence of interest in UK fashion and textiles manufacturing over recent years. Retailers are looking to de-risk their supply chain by bringing it closer to home and brands are keen to take advantage of the USP of selling a UK-made product. We actively encourage them to do so, but only where factories operate to acceptable standards.

This encouraging growth in UK-made clothing and textiles has also seen the number of jobs on the manufacturing side of the industry steadily rising. The UK Fashion & Textile Association and other industry partners have worked extremely hard over the past few years to change the perceptions of UK manufacturing. Today’s industry, far from being filled with the dark satanic mills of the past, is a vibrant and innovative industry, creating growth, jobs and opportunity. This diverse sector produces high-quality products used in hospitals, cars, international catwalks and the high street.

UKFT is committed to seeing initiatives such as the collaborative retailer and manufacturer project Fast Forward - as well as other supply chain auditing programmes, working with manufacturers to help ensure that their employment practices, welfare standards and quality assurance procedures - are continuously improved. We also actively encourage consumers to think very carefully about how their fashion and textiles products are made.

The government’s enforcement agencies must be pro-active in investigating factories that fail to meet the required standards and operate outside of the law. Particular focus should be placed on enforcing payment of the living wage/minimum wage. Where abuses are found, the government has to use the full force of the law to ensure that companies comply and those that do not are closed down.

UKFT is committed to engaging with government, other stakeholders and the industry to deliver ethical working practices for manufacturers that, at a minimum, meet those which exist under the national agreements between several employer bodies and the trade unions. We extend an open invitation to press, the government and any other interested parties to come and see some of the incredible UK-based fashion and textiles factories, producing Great British products. These companies are the standard rather than the exception, with employers providing a safe and rewarding working environment and where the garments, textiles and other products are made to the highest quality.

Adam Mansell is chief executive of the UK Fashion & Textile Association

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