Poor conditions persist in Leicester garment factories - report
Exploitation of garment workers is continuing in Leicester's textile industry, a year after an exposé highlighted abuses in the supply chain. This is despite measures introduced to safeguard employees.
Anti-slavery charity Hope of Justice told Sky News that the audit and enforcement approach to clamping down on workforce exploitation isn’t working "because factory bosses are getting really creative and innovative" in how they hide it.
Since last summer's claims that some workers in the factories were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour, a joint investigation by government agencies, police and the council has led to inspections of almost 300 factories.
Boohoo, a major buyer from the Leicester factories, launched its own independent investigation. Earlier this year, it cut ties with a number of manufacturers it said were unable to demonstrate the high standard of transparency required.
In May, it updated a list of suppliers it would continue to work with. The list includes more than 50 factories in Leicester.
However, a worker at one of the approved factories claims her boss has found a new way to avoid paying staff the legal minimum wage of £8.91 per hour.
The unnamed woman revealed payslips with the correct number of hours worked and the minimum wage paid. However, she also presented a slip of paper given with each payslip with a handwritten number showing the amount her boss says she has to withdraw in cash and return to the factory. So far she claims she has repaid hundreds of pounds.
The report said there’s no suggestion Boohoo knows about this practice.
Paul McAnulty from the Hope of Justice charity said he has spent time at a food bank where many people in line to get food for their families are factory workers.
"We know from speaking to people here who are reliant upon the food bank, who aren't being paid a fair wage. So we know that the audit approach, the enforcement approach, it hasn't really given us any results in identifying evidence of slavery because factory owners are getting really creative and innovative in how they deal with that and how they hide it”.
Last summer a multi-agency investigation, called Operation Tacit, was launched into the textile industry in Leicester with the police, HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Health and Safety Executive taking part.
Between July 2020 and January 2021, HMRC opened 110 new cases into Leicester textile business that remain ongoing, Sky News said.
Boohoo told the news channel that it continually monitors its suppliers and has updated its supplier list twice since initial publication, “removing some suppliers who have failed to demonstrate the high standards required and also adding new ones. The rights of garment workers are central to our Agenda for Change programme. We require all of our suppliers to display the details of our UK whistle-blower helpline and we ensure that every concern raised is thoroughly investigated.
"In addition to the auditing work that we continue to do with suppliers every day in Leicester, we are transitioning all of our suppliers to Fast Forward, widely recognised as the leading auditing model in the UK.
"As part of our broader commitment to Leicester, we are investing £1 million in a Garment and Textile Workers Community Trust to fund outreach and advocacy programmes and will also be opening a manufacturing facility of our own, which will be operational before the end of the year”.
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