Call for licensing scheme for garment factories to protect employees

An open letter has been sent to Priti Patel, Home Secretary from various MPs, Lords, Baronesses, fashion retailers and investors asking for the introduction of a ‘Fit to Trade’ licensing scheme for clothing manufacturers that ensure their employees, are paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and are protected from workplace dangers, currently such as COVID-19 and offering staff Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

This letter has been sent as it has come to light that factories in Leicester that supply Boohoo and Quiz, paid their employees below NMW, £3.50 an hour, forcing them to work without PPE and had staff working in unsafe conditions.

To add to the PPE issue, Leicester is one of the UK areas subject to a local lockdown.

One of the signatories of the letter, Helen Dickinson, OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium said:

The public want to know that the clothes they buy have been made by workers who are respected, valued and protected by the law. Recent reports in the media demonstrate the urgent need for action before more workers are needlessly taken advantage of. While there is no silver bullet, licensing is a critical step toward resolving this issue.

The letter states:

As we have seen in the media over the last month, a concerning number of garment workers in key hubs in the UK, such as Leicester, have continued to work in factories throughout lockdown without adequate PPE or social distancing measures in place. These reports on the terrible working conditions people face in UK garment factories add weight to concerns which have been raised over the last five years by academics and Parliamentary Committees about the gross underpayment of the national living wage and serious breaches of health and safety law in these workplaces. Unless action is taken now, thousands more people will likely face exploitation.

The letter outlines that the new licensing scheme should give workers protection from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment. To make sure employee’s health and safety is protected, as well as being paid NMW, holiday pay, national insurance contributions and pay as you earn (PAYE). To encourage retailers to get their clothes from the UK, as the letter states “most leading fashion retailers have significantly scaled down their UK supply” due to a belief there is a lack of responsibility among UK factories. Finally to prevent businesses from selling items at a cheaper rate compared to companies who comply with UK laws.

Boohoo and Quiz, have already stated they would investigate the claims made against the manufacturers in Leicester. Boohoo said that it would put an end to its contracts with suppliers not to be following codes of conduct and that it wishes “to ensure that everyone working to produce clothing in Leicester is properly remunerated, at least the national minimum wage, and is fairly treated and safe at work.”

Darius is the editor of HRreview. He has previously worked as a finance reporter for the Daily Express. He studied his journalism masters at Press Association Training and graduated from the University of York with a degree in History.