Letter: To the UK Government in response to the BBC Panorama investigation
On Monday, 7 November, the BBC Panorama team released a programme with shocking but not surprising revelations about purchasing practices in Boohoo HQ. Leicester garment workers have been sounding the alarm for the crisis they are facing, so we welcome the media attention on this issue.
In response, 35 trade unions, labour rights organisations and academics wrote to the UK government calling for urgent action.
We believe fashion brands’ whole business model puts suppliers under unsustainable strain to deliver ever-lower prices and ever quicker speed. This drives exploitative behaviour with workers paying the ultimate price, while brands outsource responsibility to suppliers.
Here in the UK we have a chance to create a blueprint for a different industry, but we need a real commitment from UK brands and we need action from the government. Leicester garment workers deserve good jobs and fair wages.
We need the UK government to support a more ethical business. Only effective regulation that covers both brands’ purchasing practices and comprehensive supply chain responsibility can stem the race to the bottom and begin to build a fairer garment industry.
7th November 2023
Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister
Kevin Hollinrake, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business
Margaret Beels, Director of Labour Market Enforcement
cc: Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester City Council
cc: Philip Dunne, Environmental Audit Committee
cc: Human Rights at Work Joint Committee
Ref: Urgent Action Needed for Leicester Garment Workers and Recommendations for long term sustainable garment industry in the UK.
The most recent BBC Panorama programme on 6th November provides a snapshot into the ongoing exploitation of workers and the lack of oversight in fashion company supply chains in the UK. The investigation highlights the continued unfair and abusive purchasing practices which squeeze suppliers on prices and lead times. In turn this impacts worker who are underpaid, harassed and forced into insecure jobs. The past decade has seen numerous reports detailing similar practices in Leicester garment factories, and other factories both in the UK and internationally. The situation was also investigated during the 2019 Environmental Audit Committee investigation into Fast Fashion and concerns were raised in Parliament in December 2020.
Alleged abuses within the garment industry in Leicester share many characteristics of the global exploitation of workers in fashion brand supply chains globally. Boohoo is not alone in failing workers in its supply chain – cases of abuse are found wherever big brands manufacture. These abuses include furlough fraud, modern slavery, abusive working conditions, widespread wage theft and the exploitation of vulnerable workers. Continued use of unfair purchasing practices drives illegal employment practices, and there needs to be action to effectively improve the enforcement of labour rights and stop persistent unfair purchasing practices.
For full text and list of signatories, please see the letter below