subscribe: Posts | Comments

UK textile workers exploited in Manchester too


HomeworkersWorldwide, Manchester, textile and garment industry, study, low pay, exploitation, Leicester, We need to address the serious issues identified in this and other research into the UK’s textile and garment industry.

A new study which looked into conditions in Manchester factories includes reports from workers that £4 a hour – less than half the minimum wage – is a standard rate of pay, confirming suspicions that it is not just Leicester where this kind of labour exploitation is happening.

The report, from HomeworkersWorldwide, also flagged that factory owners say this is caused by brands asking for excessively low prices in order to compete with Asia and other low wage production regions.

In 2017, Homeworkers’ Worldwide, a small international gender and labour rights NGO more often documenting women workers’ experiences in countries as far away as India, Chile and China, secured funding for an initial scoping study on the textile and garment industry in Greater Manchester.

This report summarises the key findings from this seven-month long outreach project, completed in October 2017 and was published last month.

The report provides evidence that confirmed that the low wage rates – around £4 per hour – and double accounting systems found by Professor Hammer in Leicester in 2015 were also present in sections of the industry in Greater Manchester.

Small manufacturers also highlighted the challenges they faced, due to large retailers’ unfair purchasing practices, which included driving down prices to levels where it was impossible for them to pay their workers properly and leaving invoices unpaid for several months at a time.

Although only an initial overview, this report does document concerning evidence that workers are paid at rates well below minimum wage, and it also provides an anecdotal example of the ways in which a worker’s irregular immigration status can leave them vulnerable to further exploitation.

The conversations with employers again highlighted the asymmetric power relations that other studies have identified between these very small manufacturers and the much larger retailers.

As fast fashion increases incentives for production that is located closer to UK markets, there is a danger that these trends will only increase.

Specific policy recommendations are in many ways provisional, as workers’ voices have not yet been heard.

Nevertheless, Homeworkers’ Worldwide suggest the proposals below should be explored by those seeking to address the serious issues identified in this and other research on the UK’s textile and garment industry.

Retailers should:

place more regular and/or larger orders to UK manufacturers who are committed to improving working conditions, to incentivise them to make changes;

pay invoices promptly, to reduce cash flow issues that can lead to late payment of wages; and

commit to supporting suppliers to address workplace issues, and not ‘cutting and running’ when abuses are disclosed, as this will only deter others from speaking out; and

ensure that their purchasing practices do not undermine their stated commitment to ethical standards, by for example, ensuring that lead times are not so short that excessive overtime – or unauthorised subcontracting – is unavoidable.

Civil society organisations should:

increase the provision of free or low cost legal advice, to make it easier for workers to be aware of their rights and to take action when these are denied; and

seek ways to support workers employed in the GMTGI to come together to form some form of collective organisation or trade union to represent their interests.

Statutory bodies should:

strengthen and simplify the current enforcement system for UK employment law;

adequately resource enforcement bodies, so employers face a realistic chance of prosecution should they fail to comply;

sever the links between some enforcement bodies eg the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority  (GLAA) and UK immigration authorities, to encourage migrant workers to report their concerns;

introduce a flexible two tier system for employment rights redress, with an accessible process for straightforward issues such as the non payment of holiday or sick pay, with tribunals, supported by legal aid, for more complex legal issues such as discrimination;

ensure that penalties are collected by the same authority, so that employees do not have to pursue their employers through the small claims court;

reduce legal minimum waiting times for payment of invoices, to reduce cash flow issues that can lead to late payment of wages; and

consider introducing joint liability for the most serious labour rights abuses, to hold the often much larger retailers accountable for working conditions in their supply chains.

To read the full report, ‘The Greater Manchester textile and garment industry: a scoping study’, click here.

HomeworkersWorldwide is now keen to hear from other potential partners to find ways to investigate and address the serious issues that that they have documented.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *