Letter sent to The Guardian on 12 July
Your report on the disgraceful employment practices in much the Leicester garment industry (“Boohoo co-founder Jalal Kamani linked to Leicester garment factory,”10 July 2020; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jul/10/boohoo-co-founder-jalal-kamani-linked-to-leicester-garment-factory ) makes mention that an “undercover reporter working at the Morefray factory was told to expect pay of £3.50 an hour, compared with the national minimum wage of £8.72 for over-25s.
Sadly, this appalling inhumane exploitation has been publicly raised several times before, without any action taken by the (ir)responsible authorities such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis)or any one of several regulatory bodies including the Health and Safety Executive.
Newly elected left-wing Labour MP Claudia Webbe, representing Leicester East where many of the garment factories are based, ,revealed in her maiden speech – which highlighted racism in our society ( made at 8:30 pm on 9th March this year): “ Leicester is considered the home to the garment industry […] but in Leicester’s garment industry today many workers, overwhelmingly women, earn well below the minimum wage—as little as £3 an hour in conditions that most people would find unthinkable in modern Britain.”
On 13 May last year, the Government responded to a detailed report issued by the House of Commons environmental audit committee on the sustainability of the fashion industry, which included extensive criticisms of exploitative working conditions in the Leicester garment sector,(‘ Eighteenth Special Report: The Environmental Audit Committee published its Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability (HC 1952) on 19 February 2019) with this most complacent of assertions:
“The Government is determined that everyone who is entitled to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage (NMW) receives it. We continue to crack down on employers who ignore the law. …..the retail sector is the UK’s largest private sector employer. It recognises that it has a responsibility for the issue of human and labour rights abuses and is pioneering responsible sourcing practices.”
Kelly Tolhurst, Beis minister for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility asserted:” I think we need to highlight is that currently there are a number of investigations going on within the Leicester area—joint investigations with HMRC and other agencies—to investigate the potential underpayment of the national minimum wage and the national living wage. Because they are ongoing investigations, I cannot go and will not go into the specifics of those investigations” (https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/sustainability-of-the-fashion-industry-17-19/)
This is sadly hugely hollow evidence.