Government Backs A New Watchdog to Target Worker Exploitation
The UK government has agreed to create a powerful new watchdog that will tackle worker exploitation within the garment manufacturing industry. The watchdog will be made up of three existing agencies to form one enforcement body: the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Enforcement.
This enforcement body would then be able to incite minimum wage, protect vulnerable workers’ holiday and sick pay entitlements, be responsible for tackling modern slavery, and name and fine companies which fail to comply.
The garment manufacturing industry in Leicester came under intense scrutiny last year when press reports revealed that workers were allegedly paid just £3 an hour, working conditions were poor and exploitative and they were still being forced to work ignoring COVID regulations.
Leicester has the second largest concentration of textile and fashion manufacturing businesses in the UK. Recognising the importance of the industry to the local economy, Leicester City Council is investing £300,000 to help set up a pilot project to offer apprenticeships and accredited training for people working in the local textiles industry.
Fashion-Enter Ltd (FEL) has teamed up with Leicester City Council and local clothing company Ethically Sourced Products Ltd to develop a new textiles skills centre – the FC Fashion Technology Academy Leicester, due to open late summer 2021. FEL has additionally been working with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to deliver the Level 1 Award in Workers’ Rights and Labour Exploitation.
The SEG Awards ABC Level 1 Award in Workers’ Rights and Labour Exploitation has been developed to raise awareness of the basic employment rights provided by UK law. Learners will gain an understanding of the job application process and how to spot if an advertisement is genuine or not. They will also gain the tools to enable them to understand whether or not they, or a colleague, are being exploited and the process for how this should be reported. This course will be made available to learners and workers in Leicester as well as other areas of the UK.
Discussing the topic of a new government watchdog for the sector Fashion-Enter Ltd CEO Jenny Holloway said: “Over the last six months we have been working very closely with the AGM PPP as a voice for manufacturers so this announcement is great news – one step further for ethical trading between retailers and factories. We do need action however and not platitudes. The government statement that it would “explore further measures” to prevent violation of the Modern Slavery Act needs to be actioned and this should include the creation of a Garment Trade Adjudicator to investigate company supply chains. This needs to have a prompt timeline too!”
With a strong sales increase in online fast fashion the new watchdog can’t come soon enough. Demand for lower prices and a quick turnaround on products often results in the use of subcontractors and it is here that various abuses can go undetected.
Bringing these different agencies together will ensure that any abuses are rooted out and those responsible are held to account. However, there is concern that the government stated the creation of the new body would require primary legislation, which would put necessary action on hold until the issue is discussed in parliament and funding is secured. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Labour party commented that the announcement was “heavy on spin but light on action” with no actionable timetable in place.