Garment workers in Leicester face ‘many constraints’ in accessing fair pay and conditions

Monday, June 13, 2022 6:30 a.m.

The government must do more to tackle the exploitation of garment workers across the country, a report into Leicester workers has revealed.

According to a study by the University of Nottingham and De Montfort University, commissioned by the Garment & Textile Workers Trust (G&TWT).

Retailer Boohoo has come under scrutiny after it was revealed in 2020 that workers at the Leicester factories used by the fast fashion company were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

An independent investigation commissioned by Boohoo concluded that there were “numerous failures” in the retailer’s supply chain.

However, the retailer has since pledged to make substantial changes to its supply chain and cut ties with hundreds of UK suppliers. He also donated £1m seed funding for the G&TWT.

The researchers called for a single point of contact for workers who wish to file a complaint with law enforcement agencies.

“It is crystal clear that there is little that business, individuals, unions and civil society can do to tackle labor exploitation in Leicester and beyond – it is time that the government is stepping up and training – and funding – its long-promised single enforcement body,” said G&TWT Chairman Kevin McKeever.

McKeever’s words were echoed by Dr Alison Gardner, senior researcher at the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, who said garment workers had described wanting to ‘build a bright future for the next generation in Leicester’.

However, there are “currently many constraints that prevent them from accessing fair wages and conditions”, added Dr Gardner.

Workers should be connected to sources of community legal advice and employment support, the report says.

Mining was able to continue due to the isolation of workers, their low expectations for the outcome of concerns raised, and a lack of adequate collaboration between local agencies, researchers said.

The report also concluded that there were persistent disincentives for employers to provide decent work, as they felt unsure of the potential financial returns of using an ethical business model.

“The economic pressures on small businesses in the garment industry in Leicester may well contribute to the continued exploitation of workers. In return, we learned that while workers tend to know their rights, they report feeling powerless,” said Dave Walsh, professor of criminal investigation at De Montfort University.

It comes as fast fashion has increasingly come under the spotlight for business models that harm the environment and abuse workers.

The collapse of Manchester-based fast fashion brand Missguided has reportedly left hundreds of Pakistani garment workers destitute.

Workers in Pakistan told the Guardian newspaper that they had not received a salary for more than four months.

Additionally, Chinese fashion retailer Shein was accused of greenwashing last week after the company pledged $15m (£12m) over three years to the Gold Foundation, which works with workers in textile waste in Ghana.

The announcement was applauded at the World Fashion Summit in Copenhagen last week, according to The Guardian newspaper.

However, sustainability campaigners said the brand needed to look at its own business model.

Ali Moore, of the non-profit sustainable fashion campaign Love Not Landfill, said CityA.M. “the elephant in the room” was Shein’s mass production of “effectively disposable clothing”.

“It’s great that they recognize a problem and donate money to fix it, but we’d be much happier if we could see them not causing so much trouble in the first place,” she added.

Michael O. Stutler