Reports of dangerous working conditions and low wages in the Leicester garment industry are not new. It is regrettable that it has taken the Covid-19 pandemic, and reported outbreaks of the virus in the city's garment factories, for this issue to finally register in some areas.
As far back as 2014, a report led by ETI and the University of Leicester found systemic abuse, with wages as low as £3 an hour, an almost complete absence of employment contracts, excessive and underreported hours, sometimes gross health and safety violations and limited enforcement of labour regulations and standards. A number of ETI member brands reduced or ceased sourcing from Leicester as a result of not being able to source responsibly. Now with the addition of Covid-19 there is a potentially lethal situation for workers which can no longer be ignored
Last year, a report by the Environmental Audit Committee found widespread wage exploitation, and called for changes in the law to protect workers. The recommendations were clear and practical. These recommendations were not acted on.
ETI recognises that many organisations including community groups, trade unions and ETI-member brands have worked hard to address these issues over the years. However without support from central government or regulatory bodies it has not been possible to make significant progress on resolving reports of illegal activities. ETI welcomes the recent report from Labour Behind the Label that clearly identifies the size of the challenge and makes more sensible and practical recommendations. We also welcome the attention of central government in addressing this issue, though we hope that this is not limited to just addressing illegal immigration as we know that the problems run much deeper than that.
Now is the time for the government to invest in the UK garment industry, especially as the industry faces big challenges in global supply chains over the coming years. We have a real opportunity here to rebuild and strengthen the UK garment industry, with local production in well-run factories reducing the impact on climate change, supporting the UK economy and providing decent work for UK workers. ETI and its member brands are willing, and ready, to support such a drive. We need a real commitment from government to tackle, and eradicate these abuses once and for all.