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UK Industry: Leicester garment worker tells his story

UK Industry: Leicester garment worker tells his story

 UK Industry: 
 Worker Ashok 
 shares his story 

Ashok is a former worker from a Missguided factory in Leicester. This is his story of how he came to work in the UK. 

1st July 2022

Hi, my name is Ashok, I am 28 years of age. I work in one of the garment factories in the UK and I live in Leicester.

I came from India few years ago. In India I live in Moti Daman a place in Gujarat near Mumbai. When I was in India, I heard many stories of the UK. How you can earn so much money, there are very nice houses, people are very nice, the government supports you in every way, free health care, free education, you can find jobs easily and can save a lot of money, buy so many things like a brand-new mobile within a month, designer clothes, watches, perfumes and living a life of a King.

It made me dream about going to the UK and living my life in the best way possible. I saw when people use to come back home from UK, they use to bring many presents, such as clothes, perfumes, luxury item, watches, chocolates, and lots of money. They always said how wonderful UK is and how much money they earned and how successful they became.

I tried to get my passport and visa sorted to come to the UK desperately. My parents sold many valuable items such as Gold & Land, which my father worked hard to have all his life. They were also in the hope that if I came to the UK I can earn money and send home and this way whatever lost can be returned and have a lot more.

Being the only son all the responsibility of looking after my parents was mine. I have 3 younger sisters to marry and, in our culture, we have to pay dowry, without this no one would accept my sisters hand in marriage.

When I came in the UK, I only had an option to come to Leicester as my relatives live here and can support me for short time until I find work and I settle. I knew I could only ask there help for max 2 weeks and I started hunting for work ASAP. Straight away it hit me that the biggest issue I will face is language barrier. Wherever I went I couldn’t communicate and when someone is unable to communicate it becomes same like a person who is mute. I started realising that I am so disabled in this country. I felt I was in need all the time.

Cont. in second column.

Missguided crisis

Fast fashion brand Missguided went into administration in May 2022 leaving a wake of unpaid debts to suppliers and workers owed wages. Ashok was a victim of this crisis and is owed money.

Labour Behind the Label have been campaigning for the Missguided workers who are owed wages to be paid, including holding demonstrations alongside workers outside the offices of their administrators, and their investors. You can sign the petition to Missguided in solidarity.

The relatives suggested to find work at a factory as that is the only place you will be able to find work without any qualification or skills etc. I thought it was a great opportunity to find work and start working towards my dream of living like a King. I straight away realised that this job doesn’t require skills because you just must work as a donkey without any communication.

You are expected to start work at 7am and finish at 7pm, at first I had no idea about minimum wage so when I was offered £4ph I was very happy and I calculated that monthly I would receive a lot of money compare to India. Soon reality hit me as I started to realise most of my money was going in paying tax, rent, bills and only very little was left for me which I used for clothes, food, medicines, and other necessities. 

I also realised at first doing a 12-hour shift was not an issue as I needed job and money desperately, but then when I started to get very tired, I realised it’s a long day shift and it started to affect my health. I also became very upset and depress as I was not able to save any money to send back home to pay of my loan and to support my family.

Everyday I use to get calls and messages from my family asking when I will send money? I used to explain my reality here, but they failed to understand and thought I am just enjoying life and spending money for my own leisure. This made me more upset and depress, I lost all the hope and started becoming grumpy and fed up with life.

I started avoiding calls of my family and not replying to their messages, this made me lonelier and more found myself alone to fight this situation. I slowly made some friends at my factory workplace where I learnt many things such as minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay, and some of my rights as a worker.

This was after working for 5 years for this factory, I lost so much in the meantime and wondered if I knew about this before my life would have been so much easier and better in many ways. I even lost trust from my own family and had to break ties with them. They must be suffering a lot without paying of the loan by me not sending any money to them. This haunts me every night and I can’t sleep. I sometimes think to even commit suicide and end all my troubles and worries.

When I questioned my boss about the rights of workers and how I should be getting paid minimum wage, I started getting excuse such as how the orders are being cancelled by brands and how there is not enough work for everyone, and this could even be the last month of my work.

Just by listening to this I get scared to ask anything to my boss, I just keep my head down and work as I worry that I will lose my job and will not have a roof on my head. I have nowhere to go and no one to support me. I also heard that there is no help for a single person. No benefits from the government no support. I would have to live on streets and beg for money & food.

I am helpless and not sure how long I will be continuing living like this. Do I have any other option? Is there anyone that can help me? I have no idea but for now I am surviving with my struggles…

Press release: Activists call on Boohoo board to give evidence that prices don’t prohibit legal work

Press release: Activists call on Boohoo board to give evidence that prices don’t prohibit legal work

  • Prices paid to Boohoo suppliers called into question as potential barrier to legal wage payments and sustainable growth
  • Activists say Boohoo workers could be owed £125 million in unpaid wages for former illegal pay cases
  • Boohoo Group AGM taking place today will see key challenges raised

Activists are posing key questions [1] to the board of Boohoo Group at their AGM today concerning the prices Boohoo pays to suppliers, and debts owed to workers.

Representatives from the human rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label will raise concerns about the impact of Boohoo’s purchasing practices on the ability of Leicester factory owners to operate legally, turn a profit and invest in their factories.
 
Citing Boohoo’s statements on ‘fair pricing’ for suppliers, activists are requesting that Boohoo publish details of the benchmarks they are using, and whether these prices ensure the minimum wage, or indeed the living wage, is payable under the standards.
 
Questions follow clear evidence that illegal pay of £3.50 / £4 an hour was common in Boohoo suppliers, linked to prices [2]. Evidence is being requested from the board that this situation has been addressed, particularly with regard to aggressive downward pressure on supplier prices.
 
Historic debts owed to workers from Boohoo supplier factories following years of underpayment of the minimum wage are also being raised. Activists say Boohoo could owe over £125 million in illegal underpayment of wages to workers who made their goods over the past 5-year period. The estimate is based on calculations from the British Retail Consortium that garment workers in Leicester at the peak of the illegal pay exposes were collectively being denied £2.1m a week [3].
 
Kaenat Issufo from Labour Behind the Label said: “Mahmud Kamani and the Boohoo board of directors need to own up to truth that Boohoo’s business model has driven abusive practices in its supply chain. Owning up means changing its purchasing practices, and making right the past wrongs that its business has created. Boohoo should pay the workers making its clothes a living wage and payback the millions in underpaid wages it owes to the workers who created Boohoo’s profits over the past ten years. It’s current approach of giving charity is demeaning and the community where I live is suffering as a result. Workers need rights not handouts.”
 
Some further details being requested concerning the brand’s commitment to building sustainable relationships with Leicester suppliers in the light of recent withdrawals from over 100 suppliers in the city [4].
 
ENDS

Notes to editors: 

  • Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.
  • The Boohoo Group PLC Annual General Meeting is being held at Boohoo’s factory at 301 Thurmaston Lane, Leicester, LE4 9UX on Friday, 17 June 2022 at 14:00

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/boohoo-group-plc-agm-questions-2022

[2] Allison Levitt QC who was commissioned to conduct an internal investigation in allegations of illegal pay in  Boohoo Group suppliers found illegally low rates of pay at £3.50/ £4 per hour to be substantiated, and that directors knew of the seriousness of the issues but failed to act. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/25/boohoo-report-reveals-factory-fire-risk-among-supply-chain-failings
 
[3] In 2020, the British Retail Consortium calculated that workers in Leicester were being underpaid £2.1m a week. https://www.thebusinessdesk.com/eastmidlands/news/2041936-leicester-textile-workers-owed-over-27m-says-report.
This had grown from 2015 estimates, where Unversity of Leicester research put this underpayment at around £1m a week. https://amp.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/feb/27/made-in-britain-uk-textile-workers-earning-3-per-hour
 
Boohoo was sourcing 50-80% of Leicester’s total output between 2015 and 2021. It is therefore a conservative estimate to assume that £50m in underpayment of wages per year, should result in Boohoo owing £125m in over a 5-year period.
 
[4] https://www.cityam.com/boohoo-cuts-ties-with-hundreds-of-suppliers-following-leicester-factory-scandal/

Media contacts:  

Boohoo Group PLC AGM Questions 2022

Questions to the board of Boohoo Group PLC
AGM date: 17th June 2022
Venue: 301 Thurmaston Lane, Leicester, LE4 9UX
Time: 14.00

Question 1 on repayment of wages to Leicester workers

My name is Dominique Muller, I’m from Labour Behind the Label, and my question today is about the historic wage debt owed to workers by Boohoo group. As you are aware, Boohoo has been at the centre of investigations surrounding illegal pay for many years, with media exposes from 2018 and 2020 causing the company to initiate investigations. Allison Levitt QC found allegations of illegally low rates of pay to be substantiated, and that directors knew of the seriousness of the issues but failed to act. £3.50 / £4 per hour rates were paid to workers making Boohoo clothing – this is not a disputed fact. Many worked in suppliers selling only to Boohoo. The issue of whose responsibility it is to repay the debt owed to workers who received these wages however remains unresolved. In 2015 ETI estimated that Leicester garment workers were underpaid around £1 million per week while in 2020, the British retail Consortium estimated that workers were owed around £27 million underpaid wages in three months alone. A conservative total then is around £50 million underpaid to Leicester garment workers each year – given that Boohoo bought 50-80 % of Leicester’s garment production in the last decade, workers who supported Boohoo’s profit margins could be owed around £125 million for the past five years.

If Boohoo is committed to ensuring its supply chain operates legally in the UK, will it ensure workers are paid back, in full, for the underpayment of the minimum wage that has been the basis of much of its margin for a number of years? Will it be creating a fund to pay back workers for the illegal wages?

Regardless of whether or not illegal wages are still being paid at Boohoo suppliers in Leicester, , the ongoing impact of Boohoo’s historic purchasing practices in Leicester suppliers should also be acknowledged. There remains an entrenched way of working where Leicester suppliers pay illegal wages and cut corners on HR and safety to compete for the low prices that buyers assume can be met in factories in this city. What is Boohoo doing to ensure it changes this, and sets an example of transparent pricing that encourages payment of a living wage, compliance and business growth?

 

Question 2 on prices paid to suppliers prohibiting sustainable practices

My name is Kaenat Issufo, I’m from Labour Behind the Label and work as the Leicester garment worker engagement lead. My work involves supporting local workers and I’m in contact with a lot of local suppliers who face continued low prices and precarious contracts. My question today is about Boohoo’s impact on business in Leicester, the prices it pays and what it is doing to support the long-term improvement of factories.

Boohoo plays a huge role in influencing how prices are set in factories here, as at least 40% of the products sourced from Leicester are for Boohoo, and many of the other brands who do business here are its price competitors. The prices that Boohoo pays to suppliers – like many other brands – are very low and over the years prices have stayed low because Boohoo keeps them there.

Boohoo stated that it has developed a series of responsible purchasing practices including paying a ‘fair price’ to suppliers. However there are no clear details for these practices and no clear benchmarks for what exactly is a fair price. I want to ask, what exactly is Boohoo doing to make sure that its prices will enable the payment of a living wage to workers in the UK? Are prices enough to allow suppliers to operate legally, turn a profit and invest in their factories in order to create a sustainable industry?

Boohoo have also pulled out of lots of Leicester suppliers in the past year leaving factories with no business. What is Boohoo doing to make sure it supports suppliers in the long run to build their businesses, work with suppliers to improve wages and support the growth of a sustainable garment industry in Leicester?

 

Open letter: Missguided co-owners and investors must prioritise the payment of debts to suppliers, thus respecting workers who made Missguided clothes

Open letter: Missguided co-owners and investors must prioritise the payment of debts to suppliers, thus respecting workers who made Missguided clothes

To: Charles Edwards, Gavin George (Alteri / Project Marley Newco)
To: Nitin Passi (Project Marley Newco / Nakai investments / co-owner)
To: Rajib Passi (Charge holder, Missguided / Project Marley Newco)

Cc: Ian Gray (Chair, Missguided)
CC: Dean Beales Insolvency Services
Cc: Dimitry Bejenar and Siegfried Kobal, ERS
CC: Daniel Francis Butters, Teneo

 

Dear all,

We are writing to you as co-owners and investors with regards to the current administration process at Missguided, to strongly urge you to prioritise the payment of debts to suppliers, thus respecting the legal rights of workers who made Missguided clothes.

Now that Missguided has entered administration it is crucial that suppliers are prioritised in the repayment of debts to prevent the permanent closure of many factories. Workers at a growing number of UK suppliers have not been paid owed-wages and an unknown number of suppliers, UK and overseas, have laid workers off without wages due to Missguided’s non-payment.

Missguided has taken a number of damaging decisions in relation to payments to suppliers and workers in recent months. In the first week of May, Missguided took the decision to halt all payments to UK suppliers pending a successful search for new investment. Many overseas suppliers report having not been paid for goods received by Missguided since January 2022. No explanation for non-payment was received by suppliers and many reported receiving no answers to emails or calls. No suppliers were informed of the impending administration. Indeed, some brand representatives informed suppliers that there were no problems in the financial health of Missguided as late as April 2022 – this was blatantly untrue.

This poor communication and payment halt came after extensive discounting was applied unilaterally in December 2021 – discounting of at least 30% on order prices already produced. Many suppliers have stated that they were forced to accept discounts to prevent Missguided going into administration… Despite the internal moves towards insolvency, new purchase orders continued to be placed at suppliers by buyers at Missguided – right up until the end of May. This is unacceptable business practice.

In addition, customers were able – and encouraged – to place new orders on Missguided websites right up until the 30 May, despite the Missguided GXO warehouse reportedly refusing to allow orders to leave the warehouse since 25th/26th May, thus meaning that Missguided sold items which they knew could not or would not be delivered to customers.

Missguided stated publicly at the end of April that “Missguided has made substantial operational progress since receiving new investment at the end of 2021, placing us on a sounder footing in a very short space of time.” This is despite months of non-payment and a decision to halt all supplier payments at the start of May. This begs the question if non-payment to suppliers was in fact a strategic decision.

In January Labour Behind the Label wrote to you concerning your commitment to ensuring corporate social responsibility at Missguided. It now appears that our concerns were well founded and that Alteri investment in Missguided did not lead to a renewed commitment to ethical trading but instead to a further deterioration of the rights of workers in Missguided supply chain and an apparent abdication of responsibility towards the welfare of the industry.

We will be continuing to follow up on and highlight these responsibilities with your companies despite the current administration process. We will of course also be in touch with the Insolvency Services to investigate claims of fraudulent and wrongful trading.

Our questions are as follows:

1. When were Teneo involved in Missguided and did Missguided staff and Directors place new orders and receive orders from customers with the knowledge of impending administration and knowing that orders will not or could not be paid?
2. What action is Alteri taking to ensure workers that made clothes are being paid?
3. How is Alteri supporting suppliers facing financial difficulty?
4. What stakeholders is Alteri working with to monitor and ensure workers are paid wages correctly?
5. Will Alteri establish a fund to ensure payment of all supply chain workers’ wages, and other payments (including social security etc) through the administration process?
6. What protections for workers have been included in the recent sale of the Missguided brand to Frasers group?

Our strong demand is that you respect and protect workers’ rights in the administration process that you are in, and that supplier debt is prioritised. We would be happy to meet in the next days with you in order to discuss your response and what can be achieved

Best wishes,

Dominique Muller
Policy Lead, Labour Behind the Label

 

PDF copies of the full letters as sent are available to download here:

Letter to Missguided

Letter to Alteri

Letter to Teneo

Missguided: Pay your workers first

Missguided: Pay your workers first

Demand Missguided pay workers first

The online fast fashion brand Missguided currently owes millions of pounds in unpaid bills to suppliers around the world. This is impacting on workers, many of whom are owed thousands of pounds in wages and payments. Missguided must put its workers first and make sure its debts are paid to those who can’t afford to take on the cost of its business difficulties.

What is happening at Missguided?

After experiencing rapid growth during the pandemic when online shopping hit an all-time high, Missguided has reportedly entered a period of financial difficulty. The brand is failing to pay its suppliers, which is having a devastating impact on workers.

Many suppliers making Missguided clothes report that Missguided has demanded extensive discounting of up to 30% on existing orders, leaving suppliers to foot the bill. Overseas suppliers report not having been paid at all for months – some since January – without any notification. Payments to UK suppliers halted in May. Some suppliers report that Misguided has been placing new orders, despite knowing that they won’t, or can’t pay. 

In December 2021, Alteri Investors stepped in to restructure the business, and then payments started to falter. Now staff are quitting the head office. No word has come from Missguided about how they will fix this problem. This is having a big impact on workers, hundreds of whom have not received their wages and many whom have been laid off with no notice.

“We believe that all workers in our supply chain should be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect…”

Missguided website

Whatever comes next for Missguided they must make sure that workers who have already made their clothes are at the top of the list of those who need to be paid. Join us in calling on Alteri Investments, and the chair of Missguided, Ian Gray, to treat suppliers and workers with the fairness and respect they deserve.

SIGN AND SHARE NOW TO CALL ON MISSGUIDED TO PAY UP FOR ITS ORDERS

FAO Alteri Investments and Missguided chair Ian Gray

Dear Charles Edwards, Gavin George and Ian Gray,

As chair and investors of Missguided, I'm getting in touch to highlight the non-payment of suppliers in Missguided's supply chain and to call on you to put workers first when making decisions about the future of the Missguided company.

Following extensive discounting with suppliers, and now the halt on all payments, many of your suppliers globally and in the UK are facing serious financial difficulty. In turn, workers who made Missguided clothing have not been paid wages and many have been let go with no certainty of their future employment, according to Labour Behind the Label.

I'm calling on Missguided to resume payments to suppliers and ensure that workers who made its clothes are being paid. If Missguided does indeed find new investment, will you make sure that workers and suppliers receive the money they are owed and are properly compensated? Given that the Missguided brand purports to stand for fairness, dignity and respect, I'm calling on you to make sure the people at the bottom of your supply chain aren't the ones left to bear the cost of the business restructuring.

Please let me know what you plan to do about this issue.

Yours Sincerely,
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