Garment workers in Leicester still face obstacles to fair pay and conditions, two years after exposé

Experts call on major retailers and government agencies to improve garment workers' lives and working conditions in a new study
The study gathered views from those who work in the garment industry.
// Experts call on major retailers and government agencies to improve garment workers’ lives and working conditions in a new study
// The trust was set up after Boohoo hit the headlines in 2020 for its poor working conditions and pay

Almost two years on from revelations about poor standards in the Leicester’s factories, the government has said more must be done to tackle the exploitation of garment workers across the UK.

According to a study from the University of Nottingham and De Montfort University, commissioned by the Garment & Textile Workers Trust (G&TWT), garment workers in the city still face hurdles to fair pay and conditions.

More than half of the workers involved in the study say they are paid below the minimum wage and receive no holiday pay.


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The trust was initially set up after Boohoo was criticised for conditions and workers’ rights at its city suppliers and researchers behind the study hope it will bring about change in the industry.

The fast fashion retailer was scrutinised after it was revealed that in 2020 that workers in Leicester factories used by the business were paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

The new study gathered views from those who work in the garment industry, with workers taking part in an anonymous questionnaire or interviews about their experiences.

“It’s crystal clear that there’s only so much companies, individuals, trade unions and civil society can do to tackle labour exploitation in Leicester and beyond – it’s time for government to step up and form – and fund – their long promised single enforcement body,” said Kevin McKeever, chair of the G&TWT.

McKeever’s words mirrored those by Dr Alison Gardner, lead researcher from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, who said that garment workers had described wanting to “build a beautiful future for the next generation in Leicester.”

However, there were “currently many constraints that stop them from accessing fair pay and conditions,” Dr Gardner added.

Workers should be connected with sources of community-based legal advice and of employment support, the report highlighted.

Exploitation was able to continue due to workers being isolated, having low expectations about the outcome of raising concerns, and a lack of adequate collaboration between local agencies, researchers said.

The report also found that there were continuing disincentives to employers to offer decent work, as they felt unsure of the potential financial returns from using an ethical business model.

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

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