Garment factories in Leicester have been the subject of controversy since the city’s lockdown in July as a result of the spike in COVID-19 cases there. The pandemic has brought to light the poor working conditions – such as small, dilapidated factory buildings, inadequate ventilation and lack of social distancing measures – in Leicester’s textile factories, where workers are being paid as little as £3 an hour.
Now, the managers of such textile factories in Leicester have been disqualified from management for a combined total of more than 400 years. Data has shown that these companies have been evading tax, owing HMRC millions of pounds, all the while contributing to the industry’s global lack of social and ethical responsibility. Many managers have also been accused of ‘phoenixing’, which is when their business goes bust due to tax violations, only to be reopened under an alternative brand name. Many of these ‘dark factories’ run unregistered and unmonitored, which allows for the exploitation of vulnerable workers in sweatshop-like conditions.
It is a general assumption that sweatshops only exist in less economically developed countries where poverty and slavery is widespread. However, the business directors of these factories in Leicester have been accused of modern-day slavery and many are currently under investigation by the National Crime Agency. Garment factories reinforce a cycle of poverty for many workers – often generations of women from migrant communities trying to escape extreme poverty but subject to exploitation here in the UK.
We must hold brands accountable and support vulnerable garment workers by demanding greater transparency from companies in their supply chains. We can also put pressure on the government to invest in enforcing its labour laws properly and fairly. In the meantime, we can decrease the demand for clothes produced in these factories by opting out of fast fashion consumerism and buying from ethically and environmentally responsible clothing brands.