The last few days have been filled with revelations about the state of the textile industry here in the UK. While Boohoo PLC has been the focus of conversation over recent weeks, modern slavery within the textile industry isn’t new, and is by no means unique to Boohoo.
Our research and intelligence have shown that Leicester is a hotspot for exploitation. In 2017, we launched a campaign to raise awareness that reached 175,000 people, which yielded results, but unfortunately, the problem has not gone away.
One result of our work in Leicester contributed to the founding of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Modern Day Slavery Action Group (LLRMSAG). This came from our recommendations and is now an incredible multi-agency partnership in its own right.
In 2018, the GLAA reported that 75% of workers in Leicester textile factories were paid below minimum wage and without employment contracts. Working conditions are described as being poor, consisting of long hours without overtime payment. Undocumented migrants and those who do not have the legal right to work in the UK constitute the most vulnerable members of this workforce, as recruiters looking to cut corners actively seek employees that come from poor socio-economic or domestic circumstances, or have poor English language ability.
For more insights from STOP THE TRAFFIK on the garment industry, there are several pieces in a magazine we co-published with Fashion Revolution and the Durham University Charity Fashion Show (DUCFS). Take a look at ACTION REQUIRED – 10 Global Goals That Will Change Fashion.
As well as minimum wage violations, throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, workers have reported being forced to work in unsafe circumstances, or when they are ill. Leicester was the first British city to face a local lockdown, after a rise in cases. The spike has been associated with the city’s textile industry, which has continued to operate throughout the pandemic.
STOP THE TRAFFIK is issuing a call for greater transparency and increased collaboration. Businesses, suppliers and their supply chains are often extremely complex. Lurking within the unknown is the ideal environment for bad practice to flourish. Even the businesses with the best intentions can be fostering an environment where trafficking occurs – which is why our approach is to work in equal partnership with businesses, as opposed to chastising them. We have a track record of doing this well, and we invite anyone who wants to fight against exploitation in their company to get in touch.
Financial organisations also have a vital role to play in this coordinated approach to fighting modern slavery. Banks have unique insights into transactions and salaries paid. What is clear is that the clues of exploitative practice are there, waiting to be found.
“Human trafficking and modern slavery are the ugly reality, and a driving force, behind the fashion industry: both in the UK and globally.
“Brands cannot audit their way out of this situation, or paper over the problem. What’s needed is a radical approach to transparency and collaboration. Every individual, every community, and every business need to be focused on the journey to rooting out exploitation for good.”
A culture of honest, genuine collaboration across business, finance, government and NGOs sends the message to those who seek to exploit others: trafficking will not remain an effective business model. Action can be taken by anyone. From what we see in the community and how we shop, to how we safeguard others and how we manage investments. The more we shine a light on the hidden crime of exploitation, the harder it will be to use others for financial gain.