Fast fashion retailers including Asos, Missguided, New Look and the Very Group are backing calls for a mandatory licensing scheme to ensure UK garment factories operate safely and treat employees fairly.
They are among 13 UK fashion retailers on a list that also includes George at Asda, Joules, M&S, Matalan and Next, who have joined MPs, investors and non-governmental organisations in writing to Home Secretary Priti Patel to call for a ‘fit to trade’ licensing scheme. Such a scheme would ensure that factories producing clothing are meeting their legal obligations to employees on pay and health and safety.
Their letter refers to recent news coverage that has suggested workers making clothing destined for brands including Boohoo and Quiz have been doing so in unsafe conditions during the Covid-19 breakdown. Garment factories in Leicester have been linked to the recent rise in Covid-19 infections and the subsequent local lockdown in the city following undercover reporting for The Sunday Times.
The letter says: “Responsible retailers and brands have made significant efforts to improve labour practices in garment factories, but whilst this has supported improvements in a handful of factories, it has not led to the desired system-wide changes needed. Most leading fashion retailers have therefore significantly scaled down their UK supply.
“There is now an opportunity for the UK to become a world-leading, innovative, export-led, ethical fashion and textile manufacturing industry, delivering better-skilled jobs, that in times of crisis can also be utilised for PPE production. If the right steps are taken, fashion retailers and brands will seek to source more production from the UK, which will provide new decent jobs in areas like the East Midlands and North West, and improve the country’s competitiveness and balance of trade.”
The letter, whose primary signatories include members of the cross-party parliamentary group for textiles and fashion and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), says that at a minimum, a fit to trade scheme would protect workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment while ensuring the National Mininum Wage, VAT, PAYE, national insurance and holiday paid are properly paid by factories who also follow health and safety guidelines.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "The BRC has repeatedly called on Government to take action to prevent labour exploitation in the UK. Recent reports in the media demonstrate the urgent need for action before more workers are needlessly taken advantage of. While there is no silver bullet, licensing is a critical step toward resolving this issue. The public want to know that the clothes they buy have been made by workers who are respected, valued and protected by the law.
“Our members continue to stand firm against labour exploitation, and we hope the Home Secretary joins us in the fight to build a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry.”