UK Garment Industry
£3/hr commonplace and rights undermined
The UK garment industry is centred around a number of hubs. The largest is based in Leicester, with around 1,000-1,500 factory units. For several years, numerous media reports have detailed illegal practices in UK-based garment factories that are linked to big brands. As a result, many brands have switched to sourcing elsewhere. Only a few remain. The largest of these is Boohoo and its sister brands which dominate the local industry. Industry sources state that it is impossible to produce the units/garments requested by Boohoo for the product price while still paying workers the national minimum wage of £8.72 per hour. Wages as low as £2-3 per hour are allegedly commonplace in Leicester factories supplying Boohoo and other online retailers.
Workers are vulnerable to exploitation
Most garment workers in Leicester are from minority ethnic groups, and around a third were born outside the UK. These workers are vulnerable to abuse as a result of their immigration status, language skills and support systems.
There have also been numerous allegations of links to modern slavery and trafficking. Lack of documented resident status or entitlement to work means that many workers are willing to accept poor conditions in exchange for a job, even one without formal contracts or minimum wages. This also contributes to a situation where workers are unable – or unwilling – to speak out about labour rights abuses for fear of being deported or otherwise investigated.
The situation is compounded by the UK Home Office hostile environment policy, which focuses on reducing immigration figures by restricting freedoms for people who are deemed to be in the UK illegally. In practice, this targets and punishes migrant workers as opposed to redressing exploitation and promoting a systematic change of labour practices.
Brands must end UK worker exploitation and work towards a transparent and fair industry
- Brands must address wage theft in their suppliers and ensure workers who make their clothes are paid at least the minimum wage going fowards and the minimum wage for the work they have done (including compensation and back pay in lieu of underpayment of wages).
- Brands must ensure purchasing practices allow suppliers to pay workers fairly and operate safe and supportive businesses.
- Brands must work with suppliers and unions to improve access to support for workers, including giving union access and supporting workers’ rights training.
- Brands must operate in a transparent way, including signing the transparency pledge and publishing supplier lists