The government must do more to tackle the exploitation of garment workers across the country, a report into Leicester workers has found.
Garment workers in the city still face obstacles to fair pay and conditions, according to a study from the University of Nottingham and De Montfort University, commissioned by the Garment & Textile Workers Trust (G&TWT).
Retailer Boohoo was scrutinised after it was revealed in 2020 that workers in Leicester factories used by the fast fashion firm were paid as little as £3.50 an hour.
An independent inquiry commissioned by Boohoo concluded there were “many failings” in the retailer’s supply chain.
However, the retailer has since pledged to make substantial changes to its supply chain and cut ties with hundreds of British suppliers. It also donated £1m initial funding for the G&TWT.
Researchers have called for a single ‘front door’ contact point for workers who want to make a complaint to enforcement agencies.
“It’s crystal clear that there’s only so much companies, individuals, trade unions and civil society can do to tackle labour exploitation in Leicester and beyond – it’s time for government to step up and form – and fund – their long promised single enforcement body,” said Kevin McKeever, chair of the G&TWT.
McKeever’s words were echoed by Dr Alison Gardner, lead researcher from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, who said that garment workers had described wanting to “build a beautiful future for the next generation in Leicester.”
However, there were “currently many constraints that stop them from accessing fair pay and conditions,” Dr Gardner added.
Workers should be connected with sources of community-based legal advice and of employment support, the report highlighted.
Exploitation was able to continue due to workers being isolated, having low expectations about the outcome of raising concerns, and a lack of adequate collaboration between local agencies, researchers said.
The report also concluded there were continuing disincentives to employers to offer decent work, as they felt unsure of the potential financial returns from using an ethical business model.
“Economic pressures on small business in the garment industry in Leicester may well contribute to continued exploitation of workers. In turn, we have learned that while workers tend to know their rights they report feeling powerless,” Dave Walsh, professor in criminal investigation at De Montfort University, said.
It comes as fast fashion is increasingly coming under the spotlight for business models that damage the environment and mistreat workers.
The collapse of Manchester-based fast fashion brand Missguided has reportedly left hundreds of Pakistani garment workers in destitution.
Workers in Pakistan told the Guardian newspaper that they had not received salaries for more than four months.
What’s more, Chinese fashion retailer Shein was accused of greenwashing last week after the firm pledged $15m (£12m) over three years to the Or Foundation, which works with textile waste workers in Ghana.
The announcement won applause at the global fashion summit in Copenhagen last week, according to The Guardian newspaper.
However, sustainability campaigners said the brand needed to look inward at its own business model.
Ali Moore, from sustainable fashion non-profit campaign Love Not Landfill, told CityA.M. the “elephant in the room” was Shein’s mass production of “effectively disposable clothing.”
“It’s great they are recognising a problem and donating some money to solve it but we would be much happier if we could see them not causing so much of a problem in first place,” she added.