UK government launches watchdog to toughen garment workers' legal protection
The UK fashion industry is on notice. The government is launching a major initiative to crack down on workplace abuse, with particular attention to garment production, in a bid to improve and protect workers’ rights. Also key will be the enforcement of the minimum wage.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has created a modern slavery watchdog with a “one-stop shop” bringing three existing bodies together.
The new watchdog will take over responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing minimum wage, improving enforcement and ensuring employees and businesses know where to go for help on workers’ rights, making it easier to seek guidance on working practices.
Alongside the announcement, the business department said that “further action to target abuses in the garment industry supply chain is under consideration”.
Measures could include banning fashion retailers from selling clothes made in factories where staff are underpaid. The BEIS initiative proposes “bans on goods made in factories where workers have been underpaid... if brands’ behaviour doesn’t improve”.
Paul Scully, the business minister, said: "This government has been absolutely clear that we will do whatever we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights. This new workers’ watchdog will help us crack down on any abuses and take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains”.
Investigations last year revealed that workers in many of Leicester’s garment factories were paid as little as £3.50 an hour. Those revelations bought fast-fashion retailer Boohoo into the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
However in March, Boohoo began cleaning up its act after admitting it had “clearly unacceptable issues”, publishing the results of a long-awaited independent review of its working practices.
That led to Boohoo slashing its number of suppliers to 78 approved factories in 100 locations, down from an estimated 200 main manufacturers.
Boohoo said its review had identified "many failings, alongside recommended improvements to the firm’s related corporate governance, compliance and monitoring processes".
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