Minister denounces ‘shocking’ exploitation of Leicester textile factory
A minister criticized the problems in Leicester’s textile sector, calling reports of the exploitation of workers “shocking”.
Business Minister Paul Scully said the new rules would make it harder for city bosses to take advantage of staff, amid allegations after allegations of poor working conditions and wages.
He spoke as the government said it was going to do more to protect workers’ rights and crack down on workplace abuses with what he called a new “powerful” enforcement body.
The new worker watchdog should take responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage, and helping bosses know where to go for help on workers’ rights.
Mr Scully also said the factory bosses police will also help the government take action against big brands that turn a blind eye to abuse.
He told BusinessLive: “The reports on the Leicester garment industry are nothing short of shocking – no 21st century British worker should ever be placed in this position.
“We have already set up a dedicated multi-agency task force to resolve issues in Leicester and taken steps to improve enforcement, but bringing our powers together under one roof will mean bad bosses will have nowhere to go. to hide.
“The new enforcement body will have a range of powers to seek redress for workers and punish those who break the rules, and we are clear that rogue employers who attempt to exploit their workers will not be left lightly. . “
Other options under consideration include a clothing trade arbitrator to investigate supply chains, or extending the licensing regime that currently covers employers in the agricultural sector.
Under the existing scheme, companies supplying workers for agriculture and the fresh produce supply chain must apply for a license and are subject to inspections to ensure they meet legal labor standards.
If things don’t improve, the government warns it could introduce tougher measures, including bans on products made in factories where workers have been underpaid.
While the vast majority of Leicester’s textile factory bosses look after their workforce, allegations continued to be made about factories operating under the radar and exploiting workers.
In 2019, the HMRC said that over a six-year period, 24 UK factories were caught in the act of not paying the minimum wage. A quarter were at Leicester.
The problem has not been solved by stores and websites demanding “fast fashion” – a quick turnaround of the latest trends – at the lowest possible price.
As a result, small manufacturers may be encouraged to cut costs and pay their staff less – or go bankrupt.
Last year, an undercover Sunday Times reporter claimed he saw poor conditions at a Leicester factory apparently contracted out to make items for Boohoo.
The Sunday newspaper said the undercover journalist spent two days working at a factory where he was told to expect £ 3.50 an hour, although Britain’s minimum wage for anyone aged 25 and over is £ 8.72.
Boohoo subsequently set up an independent investigation, abandoned a number of its suppliers in the city, and stopped using those who were contracting out the work. It is also setting up a new factory in Leicester which it will manage itself.
MPs attacked city council for not doing enough, while people working on the ground in Leicester attacked the government for its lack of support.
Mr Scully said that the responsibility for combating modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers is currently divided between three bodies.
If Parliament agrees, it will be brought together under one roof, creating a new authority to pool intelligence and ensure that companies that break the rules have “nowhere to hide.”
It could also make it easier for workers to speak out against bad bosses and help them claim paid vacation and statutory sick pay whenever they are denied.
A government spokesperson said tighter enforcement will ensure good companies are not compromised by unscrupulous rival employers.
The government’s plans would see the Gangmasters and Labor Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and the HMRC National Minimum Wage Enforcement combined.
The new body will also continue a ‘whistleblower and shame’ program that identifies companies that fail to pay workers what they are owed and can issue dishonest employers with fines of up to £ 20,000 per worker.
Mr Scully said: “The vast majority of companies want to do good through their people, but there is a minority who seem to think the law does not apply to them.
“Exploitation practices like modern slavery have no place in society.
“This new worker watchdog will help us crack down on any violation of workers’ rights and take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuse in their supply chains, while providing a one-stop-shop for employees and workers. companies who want to understand their rights and obligations. “