// Government is yet to respond to BRC’s call for crack down on garment factory exploitation
// The trade association estimates workers have been denied £27 million in earnings in past three months
// BRC’s Helen Dickinson calls for implementation of statutory licensing of UK garment factories
The British Retail Consortium has called on the government to do more to prevent labour exploitation in the UK’s garment industry, after it emerged workers in Leicester were denied £27 million in earnings since July.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has been told by the BRC that she must take urgent action to stop the exploitation of workers.
Both the BRC and Dr Lisa Cameron, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, claimed in a letter to Patel that workers at garment factories in the UK are being “robbed of tens of millions in wages”.
They alleged exploited workers have been denied £27 million in lost earnings since July.
A letter signed by more than 50 cross-party MPs and Peers, as well as 40 retailers, investors and NGOs, was sent in July, calling for the government to introduce a licensing scheme for garment factories in the UK.
The Fit-to-Trade scheme would “would protect workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment” by ensuring they are paid the minimum wage and given various other benefits.
The BRC did not receive a response to its letter, and has written again, telling the Home Office: “The BRC calculates that exploited workers in garment factories in Leicester alone are collectively being denied £2.1m a week in unpaid wages.
“This equates to over £27m since we raised this issue with you in July. This is entirely unacceptable.”
The BRC estimates that over 10,000 garment factory workers are being paid an average of £3.50 an hour – below the National Minimum Wage of £8.72.
In a report by Sky News on Sunday, factory workers said they worked without sick pay or benefits.
One source speaking to Sky News said they are forced to work seven days a week for many more hours than they are paid for.
“We’re asking the home secretary to implement a tried and tested licensing system,” BRC head of sustainability Peter Andrews told Sky News.
“So that no business will be able to operate without having first had a check by the authorities that it is ensuring that the minimum wages are being paid, that their health and safety practices are up to scratch and that workers are treated fairly,” Andrews added.
“Despite numerous reports in the media, and a previous letter to the Home Secretary signed by over 50 MPs & Peers and more than 40 retailers, investors and NGOs, we have not seen any action from Government to bring this injustice to an end,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.
“All the while garment workers are robbed of tens of millions of pounds in wages.
“Our members continue to stand firm against labour exploitation. Implementing statutory licensing of UK garment factories would ensure they are all ‘Fit to Trade’.
“We hope the Home Secretary joins us in this fight,” Dickinson added.
Speaking to Sky News, a Home Office spokesperson said they had received the BRC letter and would respond in due course.
“Exploiting vulnerable workers for commercial gain is despicable and we expect businesses to do all they can to tackle abuse and exploitation in their supply chains,” the spokesperson added.
“We are deeply concerned by the appalling reports of illegal and unsafe working conditions for garment workers in Leicester, and will ensure perpetrators face the full force of the law if evidence comes to light through the work of our new specialist Taskforce, led by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.”