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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…

Neo Trend workers from NEXT supplier left with nothing

Neo Trend workers from NEXT supplier left with nothing

 pandemic crisis: 
 next FACTORY 
 workers
left with 
 nothing 

Workers from Turkish NEXT supplier Neo Trend owed thousands after pandemic factory closure

16th May 2022

NEXT supplier Neo Trend in Turkey closed down in the middle of the pandemic and the factory owner fled the country, leaving workers with nothing. The 104 workers who were employed there are calling for justice. NEXT must ensure workers are paid what they are owed.

Neo Trend Textile closed officially on 1 July 2021 due to loss of orders in the pandemic. The factory had put workers on suspended leave in Spring 2020, and workers had been told that they would be paid for this leave as per government regulations. Workers were protected from being dismissed during this period because the Turkish government had introduced a ban on dismissals for the duration of the covid-19 lockdown. However, after the final order for buyer Next had been completed by a small group of workers towards the end of August 2020, the factory owner started emptying out the factory and selling all factory assets. When workers returned to work at the end of the lockdown in July 2021, the 104 workers of Neo Trend found the factory closed and were left empty-handed without their due severance, notice and other allowances.

The factory owner has transferred all financial resources out of the company and left the country, meaning workers have no access to justice via the courts in Turkey. Neo Trend workers have tried to get support from Next, which according to worker testimonies was the only buyer, since the fall of 2021. While Next representatives attended a meeting with a union that was supportive of the workers, this did not result in any concrete outcome. A group of workers has approached the Clean Clothes Campaign network for support in this case. They have since established a formal Worker Committee to represent themselves. At this time, 30 workers are participating, and it is these workers whom the CCC network is seeking remedy for, although it is possible that more may come forward in due course. Unfortunately, Next has refused to engage with the worker committee. The company has merely offered their support if “the workers choose to pursue a legal avenue as per local labour law”, which is highly unlikely to result in any payment to the workers for the aforementioned reasons.

It is clear to us that in cases of factory closure in countries with limited or no recourse to justice for workers, buyers in supply chains have a duty to ensure that workers are not left without their legally owed severance and wages, as outlined in the UNGPs. As the rights situation in any given country is clear to brands when making sourcing choices, the much-reduced risk that brands enjoy the vast majority of the time, needs to be offset by a responsible approach taken when the liability for workers’ rights isn’t picked up by suppliers. Factory closures are a case in point, where the disappearance of employers doesn’t remove the duty on companies further up the supply chain to ensure that workers are dismissed legally with the full amounts owed under the law. We are requesting that NEXT, as the main buyer, engage constructively to ensure the sum that is owed to these workers is transferred to them.

Question at NEXT AGM

We are attending the NEXT PLC AGM on Thursday 19th May to ask questions about the Neo Trend Workers’ case and to ask NEXT to pay workers what they are owed. Their board and financial backers will all be gathered in a room in Leicester UK, and activists are going to raise the struggle of the Neo Trend workers there and call on the company board to respond. You can read the text of our question here.

Can you support this by sending NEXT a message? Click the button below to send a tweet to NEXT. 

Matalan is robbing Cambodian families of their income

Matalan is robbing Cambodian families of their income

 MATALAN IS ROBBING CAMBODIAN FAMILIES of their income 

Matalan uses family values to sell their products but pays no attention to the families in its own supply chain. The hypocrisy is glaring. 

11th March 2022

When Ung Chanthoeun found that the factory she had worked at for 17 years had closed in July 2020 during the pandemic, it was a devastating blow. She said, “When I heard that Violet closed, I felt like I lost everything I ever thought possible. It’s hard to get money for my child’s schooling or to pay the bank, or for medical treatment when my family is sick.”

Virtually every worker has a family that depends on her income. Stealing compensation from workers is stealing from families.

Chanthoeun’s story is not unique. When the Violet Apparel factory, owned by Ramatex, closed over eighteen months ago, 1,200 workers were left without jobs.  The workers are owed $343.174 in unpaid compensation. Including damages that they are legally entitled to, this figure goes up to $1.4 million. Matalan was one of Violet Apparels biggest buyers. Both Matalan and Ramatex can afford to pay the workers what they are owed. Matalan’s operating profit increased by 371% from £7.4m to £34.8m in the third quarter of 2021 alone. Despite these profits, both companies are failing the workers who have stitched their clothes.

The compensation is critical to Cambodian garment workers, who in 2020, were only paid a basic wage of $192 per month. To put this into perspective, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance estimates the living wage in Cambodia to be $588 per month. This means that workers like Chanthoeun, had no realistic way to save for a crisis like Coronavirus, or sudden job loss due to factory closure – it was already a challenge to survive on such low wages from day to day.  The compensation owed to Ramatex workers like Chanthoeun is crucial, it is a lifeline for workers to support themselves and their families.

For years Matalan has positioned itself as a modern family brand. The brand itself says that “Matalan takes time to listen, understand and evolve to fit changing modern family needs…” However, withholding compensation from the 1,200 workers like Chanthoeun not only harms the workers, but cuts children and families off from the income they rely on.  

Many Ramatex workers are having to make difficult decisions, as they struggle to cover basic living costs. Keo Chenda, former union vice-president at Violet Apparel says, “My life at the moment is quite miserable. Back then when I had a job I made money to support my family. Now I only work as a daily wage worker, earning $1 per hour. It’s not a fulltime and regular job. My children are two and five years old. I have to pay for the bills of the children every month and my income is just not enough.”

Although the Ramatex workers are not direct employees of Matalan, the brand has a responsibility to ensure that workers in their supply chain are paid what they are owed. For decades, big brands like Matalan have adopted aggressive purchasing practices, which push wages down and incentivise the erosion of labour rights. The exploitation of workers around the world, is directly linked to how big brands buy from their suppliers. Cheap labour and poor working conditions mean that brands like Matalan can sell clothes at bargain prices, and keep their profits at the top of the supply chain.  Matalan is complicit in the sustained underpayment and exploitation of workers, now it must step in to ensure that workers receive their legal entitlements.

It is time for Matalan to put its family values into practice and make sure that Cambodian workers are paid what they are owed. As former Ramatex worker Oeun Kunthea says, “I expect Matalan to intervene and make sure I get the full compensation. With that money I can start a small business so I can support myself and my family.

TAKE ACTION

We are calling on Matalan to put their family values into action and ensure that Ramatex pays the Violet Apparel workers full compensation without delay. 

 

The urgent need for a new UK law on business and human rights

The urgent need for a new UK law on business and human rights

 The urgent need for 
 a new UK law on 
 business and human   rights 

It’s time for a ‘Business, Human Rights and Environment Act’

28th February 2022

The UK was once a pioneer on business and human rights. But now, the UK is clearly falling behind other countries in its duty to protect our human rights and environment from corporate abuse, following the European Council tabling its directive for new EU mandatory human rights and due diligence laws last week.

The UK was the first country to develop a ‘Business and Human Rights National Action Plan’ based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and one of the first to pass a domestic supply chain law, in the form of the Modern Slavery Act.

The clear next step for the Government, following a year where it has chaired the G7 and COP26, is to show global leadership by introducing a new law to require companies to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence in order to prevent and mitigate the risks that their actions pose. This law must also include legal liability for harm – modelled on the UK Bribery Act’s ‘failure to prevent approach’ as already recommended by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights – to ensure access to remedy for victims of abuses.

So why should the UK do this now?

Companies want the UK must stay in step with other jurisdictions

European states and the EU bloc itself are now introducing new laws placing due diligence obligations and liability on companies operating in their jurisdictions. In many instances, these laws will apply to UK companies doing business in these states. This will have major consequences for these businesses, compounding an already distinct lack of clarity on their legal obligations on human rights abuses and environmental destruction. If good practice in the UK remains to be only encouraged by voluntary guidelines or limited and toothless reporting obligations, companies doing the right thing will face a clear competitive disadvantage.

As a statement endorsed by 36 businesses and investors, including the British Retail Consortium, John Lewis, Tesco, Asos, and Primark outlines: “We call on the government to introduce a new legal requirement for companies and investors to carry out human rights and environmental due diligence…. Legislation can contribute to a competitive level playing field, increase legal certainty about the standards expected from companies, ensure consequences when responsibilities are not met, promote engagement and impactful actions between supply chain partners and, above all, incentivise impactful and effective action on the ground.”

We need it not just to regulate global supply chains, but for our own UK human rights

Due to the global nature of UK business value chains, a new UK law would have a global impact on the improved realisation of human rights in all territories where UK businesses operate. But it would also have clear effect in the UK. As an expert legal opinion into the potential liability of Boohoo for alleged supply chain abuses in Leicester found, Boohoo’s story is, “… a compelling example of a situation in which such legislation might have made a difference”.

In the absence of new laws we face a profound ‘governance gap’ in how we regulate business on human rights and the environment and the result of this governance gap is that it creates potential and actual corporate impunity for the ongoing abuses of human rights and unjust environmental destruction suffered by people and communities in the UK and around the world.

Most importantly, a new law can help protect the rights of people and communities around the world from potential or actual corporate abuse.

It is not enough to only ‘encourage’ business to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence: soft law approaches are not sufficiently effective to change how businesses operate with respect to human rights. While the UK has made progress in recent years, it must now step forward with the binding laws we urgently need to change the situation faced by people, workers and communities around the world suffering abuses of their rights and environment.

The time to act is now.

 

This blog is an excerpt from a statement signed by Labour Behind the Label and other organisations in the Corporate Justice Coalition on 23rd February 2022. See the full statement here.

What are we calling for?

LBL is part of a coalition of civil society organisations calling for the introduction a new UK ‘mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence’ law, based on the duties to prevent tax evasion and bribery found in the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and the Bribery Act 2010.

The principles for a new law have been prepared by UK civil society organisations who are working to strengthen corporate accountability for human rights abuses and environmental damage. These principles provide an overview of the elements needed in  new legislation.

They are endorsed by the Corporate Justice Coalition and 34 individual UK partner organisations.

See here for more

 

Engaging with Garment Workers in Leicester

Engaging with Garment Workers in Leicester

 LEICESTER COMMUNITY 
 ENGAGEMENT 

LBL is launching a new project to engage with garment workers in Leicester.

25th February 2022

“My name is Kaenat Issufo, and I have just started working at Labour Behind the Label on the community engagement project.  I live in Leicester, the biggest garment industry hub in the UK, and will be working with local garment workers to understand their needs in order to bring about positive change in their lives.  I will be bringing a real focus on local workers and the issues they face including underpayment and wage theft, poor working conditions, health and safety, gender and women’s rights and lack of proper labour regulations. 

This job is very important to me. My mum and my sister are both ex-garment workers, and I have known the struggle for a long time. I understand the difficulties that garment workers go through in their life when they don’t get paid enough, there is no recognition or job satisfaction. Growing up in the family of a factory worker, there are so many things that I missed out on that other people had the privilege of. We couldn’t afford swimming or school trips when I was a child, and later on university was not an option. The low pay that garment workers earn is sometimes not even the minimum wage, let alone a living wage. It is barely enough to support a family’s basic needs.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last 25 years since my mother was a garment worker. This is why it’s really important to me to support the voice of garment workers and ensure they are heard by the community, brands and the governments.

I have over ten years of experience in community engagement and have worked with minoritized groups of people including people with language barriers and people who are new to the UK and unaware of their basic rights, which then leads to vulnerability and exploitation at work. I am really looking forward to this new role at Labour Behind the Label, and hope to bring about a positive change in the garment industry and benefits to the factory workers.”

Engaging with workers to raise labour standards

In 2020, we released a report exposing illegal wages, unsafe working conditions and exploitation in Boohoo’s supply chain. Many of the factories were based in Leicester, which is home to the biggest UK garment producing hub of around 1000-1500 factory units.

Two years later, little has changed for many of the garment workers in Leicester. With our new community engagement project, we will work with garment workers to identify priority areas and ensure that their voices are heard during by policy makers and brands.

This new project will enable us to move forward in our campaign to hold brands to account for the conditions in which their clothes are made, calling for greater transparency, living wages and an end to exploitative purchasing practices.

Stolen wages in India and Pakistan mean workers owed millions

Stolen wages in India and Pakistan mean workers owed millions

 Minimum wage 
 increases fail to 

 reach workers 

Stolen wages in India and Pakistan mean workers owed millions

14th February 2022

Right now, workers making our clothes in India and Pakistan are having their wages stolen as factories refuse to pay a new legal minimum wage. International brands including Zara, M&S, Nike and H&M underpaid garment workers in Karnataka India as estimated £41m last year.

The wage hike in both countries has been long overdue. Workers say their children are going hungry as a result. “If we had got the wage increase last year, we could have at least eaten vegetables a few times a month. Throughout this year I have only fed my family rice and chutney sauce,” one worker in Karnataka said. “I tried to talk to the factory management about it but they said, ‘this is what we pay to work here. If you don’t like it, you can leave.’”

This couldn’t be more important – as inflation rises in countries that make our clothes, more and more minimum wages can’t cover the cost of feeding kids or sending them to school. In most South and South East Asian garment producing countries, the minimum wage is less than a third of the amount needed to cover basic costs of living for a family, and governments are in a competition with each other to keep wages low in order to attract international brands to buy from their factories. That’s why when countries do put up their wages you can be sure it’s because they absolutely have to. Brands must respect this and make sure they increase their prices to cover the increase in costs

Can you take action to help?

Brands are the ones who must step in here and say that their money will only continue to flow if wages cover the cost of living and human rights are respected. And they will only do this if they feel consumers care enough to notice. This is why your action is so important. Will you click the button and to send a tweet to brands?

Estimated money owed to workers in Karnataka

We’ve been in touch with UK brands to ask them to contact their suppliers and make sure that the wages workers are owed are reaching their pockets, and to make sure that workers are paid the arrears due since the minimum wages were increased (letter here). So far we’ve heard back from ASOS, Burberry, M&S, New Look, NEXT, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, but we’ve had nothing from Primark, Boohoo, and River Island. 

Paying the minimum wage is the very bottom line of what the brands who make our clothes need to do to show responsibility in how they make clothes. Only brands can change this situation by stepping in and demanding their factories pay workers what they are legally owed.