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UK retailers call for ‘urgent action’ to end labour exploitation

A number of fashion retailers including Asos, Missguided, River Island and M&S have called on the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to take “urgent action” to address exploitation in the UK’s fashion supply chain.

Retailers including George at Asda, Joules, Matalan, Morrisons, Mountain Warehouse, N Brown, Next and The Very Group, joined investors and NGOs in co-signing the joint letter to Patel, alongside 50 cross-party MPs.

The joint letter, coordinated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) alongside APPG for Fashion and Textiles and the APPG on Ethics and Sustainability, comes in response to recent reports of workers being paid below minimum wage, not being supplied with PPE and working in “unsafe environments”.

The news comes as The National Crime Agency has confirmed it is investigating fashion retailer Boohoo following allegations of poor working conditions in a Leicester warehouse. 

An NCA spokesman told Retail Sector: “Within the last few days NCA officers, along with Leicestershire Police and other partner agencies, attended a number of business premises in the Leicester area to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking.

“Tackling modern slavery is one of our highest priorities, and we are committed to working with partners across law enforcement, the private, public and charity sector to pursue offenders and protect victims.”

The allegations made by worker’s rights group Labour Behind the Label arose after the East Midlands city was placed under lockdown.

The group said that workers were “being forced to come into work while sick with Covid-19”, and that it had received reports of factories working “illegally” throughout lockdown and that some employees had been denied pay when forced to isolate.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP, chair of the APPG for Textiles and Fashion said: “We therefore support the proposals of the British Retail Consortium and others on the need to implement statutory licensing of garment factory owners and managers to ensure they are ‘Fit to Trade’.

This would protect workers and provide an incentive for retailers and brands to invest in the UK. As a minimum, this should cover protection of workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment, ensuring payment of National Minimum Wage, VAT, PAYE, National Insurance, Holiday Pay and Health and Safety.”

She added: “These measures will also raise tax revenues for the Treasury and create a barrier that preventsrogue businesses from accessing the market and undercutting legitimate fashion manufacturing companies, creating a level playing field for businesses to compete fairly.”

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