The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) has written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, with more than 50 cross-party MPs and Peers and 40 retailers, investors and NGOs, calling for greater protection for garment factory workers and asking for the introduction of a licensing scheme for garment factories.
UKFT utterly condemns all illegal working practices throughout the entire fashion and textile supply chain, whether that is in the UK or elsewhere and be that in manufacturing, transport, warehousing or retail.
UKFT signed a joint letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, alongside over 90 leading retailers, MPs and peers, investors and NGOs calling for urgent action to prevent the exploitation of garment factory workers in the UK. However, there are a number of very significant points that we want to make sure are addressed as we work together to tackle this issue.
Firstly, we must recognise that it is only a minority of UK garment manufacturers that operate illegally. The vast majority of UK businesses fully comply with all employment and health and safety regulations and the industry itself is desperate for the authorities to clamp down on the small number of factory owners who bring the entire industry in to disrepute.
Having talked to a cross-section of UKFT’s manufacturing members, every single one said that they want to see the enforcement agencies including the police, HMRC and HSE, be far better resourced to allow them to properly police and enforce the existing regulations that all businesses in the UK have to meet. We need to make sure that any ‘licence to practice’ scheme penalises the ‘bad’ manufacturers, not the vast majority of manufacturers which already comply with all the requirements of the National Living Wage, employment protections, health and safety requirements etc. We would also request that the penalties for failing to pay the National Living Wage be made a criminal offence with significant prison terms and fines.
Retail has a hugely significant role to play in both stamping out illegal practices and in helping the UK manufacturing sector grow. Buying practices and unrealistic retail prices have a direct impact on the behaviour of some factory owners. We have countless stories of retail buyers demanding, for example, that UK manufacturers make product at the same price as factories in Bangladesh. The National Living Wage in the UK is £8.72 an hour, according to War On Want the average monthly wage of a garment worker in Bangladesh is £25.00. Retail buyers need to understand the impact of their pricing models on the supply chain. The way buyers are rewarded should also be changed so that rewards are no longer based on input margin. Retailers also need to commit to long term partnerships with UK manufacturers.
There are schemes such as Fast Forward as well as other compliance schemes such as Sedex, SMETA and others. But it also worth noting that there are technical solutions to the issues raised. There are simple, cheap, IT systems available that retailers and manufacturers could use that provide total transparency. These systems allow retailers access to manufactures bank accounts, to instant live streaming of the factory floor, and they even allow retailers to track the individuals who make the garments and what they have been paid.
UK made product demands a premium in many overseas markets; we have demonstrated the capacity to make high quality PPE at volume to meet national demand and there are amazing job opportunities and apprenticeships across the country, working for companies who value the skill and dedication of their work force. The manufacturing industry in the UK has the potential to become a world-leading, high-tech fashion industry. However, in an industry dominated by micro businesses it needs help to invest. Many of the barriers to growth as well as solutions were identified in the draft Industrial Strategy that UKFT and BRC worked on several years ago.
We look forward to continuing our work with BRC and others to help eradicate all illegal activity in our industry. If we succeed, the UK manufacturing sector has a bright future.
The UK Fashion & Textile Association (UKFT) is the biggest network for fashion and textile companies in the UK. We bring together designers, manufacturers, suppliers, agents and retailers to promote their businesses and our industry, both in the UK and throughout the world.