Workers in the garment industry in Leicester are still subject to substandard working conditions and lack access to fair pay and conditions, a new report has found.
The study, carried out by the University of Nottingham and De Montfort University and commissioned by the Garment and Textile Workers Trust, called on major retailers and government agencies to make improvements.
The trust was set up by fashion retailer Boohoo, which invested £1.1 million for the trust to spend on potential improvements.
The company had been under scrutiny for its working practices, particularly during the pandemic when it was accused of promoting poor working conditions and putting workers’ health at risk.
It has since commissioned an overhaul of its supply chain activities, overseen by Sir Brian Leveson and the consulting company KPMG. The company now also links senior executive bonuses to performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
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The newly published study gathered views directly from 116 garment workers in Leicester.
‘Fashioning a beautiful future?’ finds four key ways in which garment workers in Leicester were still vulnerable to exploitation: financial precarity due to low wages or uncertainty over hours; limits in employability (often due to language difficulties) that constrain their employment choices; ineffectiveness of anti-exploitation measures so they don’t feel confident raising concerns; and disincentives for employers to offer fair and ethical work.
The report identifies nine ways the sector can improve workers’ conditions, and these recommendations will inform the priorities of the trust over the coming year:
The nine areas are:
- Improving access to English language provision, both at work and in the community.
- Providing a single contact point for workers wishing to make a complaint.
- Establishing trusted support to advocate for workplace rights, including existing trade union initiatives but also engaging with organisations that represent migrant workers.
- Connecting workers with sources of community-based legal advice and support in a range of languages so they can discuss their immigration, housing and workplace rights.
- Improving access to local educational services for workers and their families, particularly related to further education, and language support for younger children.Connecting workers with sources of employment support, training, information and advice.
- Engaging with employers to create “high-quality jobs” that are accessible to a wide range of workers, such as those with caring responsibilities or limited transport options.
- Exploring further ways to promote sustainable practices in business.
- Establishing local multi-sector and multi-agency partnerships to coordinate ongoing support and to review progress.
“Garment workers told us that they want to build a beautiful future for the next generation in Leicester, but there are currently many constraints that stop them from accessing fair pay and conditions,” said lead researcher Dr Alison Gardner.
“Our report has added to the existing knowledge about these issues, but importantly also points to solutions suggested by workers themselves.”
Kevin McKeever, chair of the Trust, added: “This research is an important addition to the body of knowledge on labour exploitation in the garment and textile industry and significant in listening to the voices of workers themselves, alongside local government and civil society.