Workers in UK factories are being paid less than half the minimum wage to create clothing for high profile retailers, an undercover report has claimed.
Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches claims high street retailers used suppliers who paid between £3/hour and £3.50/hour, and routinely broke employment laws in a programme called Undercover: Britain’s Cheap Clothes, which is due to air tonight.
Factory bosses told an undercover reporter they were unable to pay the minimum wage of £7.20/hour because they needed to compete with cheaper producing countries such as China and Bangladesh, according to the programme.
An undercover reporter worked at Fashion Square on clothes for River Island, where he was paid £110 for a week, which equates to £3/hour.
The boss said: “We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh. They can get it cheap there. How will they get it made cheaper here? If we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss.”
Drapers has not been able to contact Fashion Square but in correspondence with Disptaches, the firm denied anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage.
A River Island spokesman said: “This factory was removed from our Approved Factory List in February 2016, following two failed River Island audits. Suppliers were informed not to use this factory for any further River Island orders. We are investigating this issue and will take appropriate action.
“Sub-contracting without River Island’s approval is a serious breach of our terms and conditions,” he added.
The reporter was also employed by another factory, where he is not told the name but is producing clothing for New Look on behalf of TS Knitwear and paid £3/hour.
New Look said it did not know production was being outsourced to another factory and has terminated its relationship with TS Knitwear with immediate effect. TS Knitwear has also said it will no longer outsource manufacturing to other factories as it is “very difficult for us to police or monitor production of outsourced work”.
Finally, the reporter worked at United Creations, which produces clothes for Boohoo and Missguided, and was paid £3.25/hour. He was also concerned about fire risks as there was rubbish piled on the factory floor, the fire exits were blocked and a worker was smoking on the factory floor.
Drapers has been unable to contact United Creations but the firm denied to Dispatches anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage and said an independent Fire Risk Assessment was carried out at the factory in June 2016.
Boohoo said United Creations is not a direct supplier and it was “totally unaware that United Creations had been used for any part of the manufacturing process”. A spokeswoman for the etailer said it has since taken it up with both the direct supplier and had a member of its compliance team visit United Creations last week.
”Boohoo’s standards and ethics will not tolerate suppliers paying less than the national minimum wage and we have made United Creations aware of the standards they will have to attain if they are ever to become a supplier to Boohoo,” she said.
Missguided, meanwhile, said it demands the highest standards of safety, working conditions and pay from all of its suppliers and subcontractors.
“We have suspended production with the factory in question with immediate effect and are committed to finding a resolution to these concerns with the best interests of the workers as a priority,” said a spokeswoman.