UK garment factory workers have been denied over £27m in wages since July, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Along with Dr Lisa Cameron MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, the BRC has written to home secretary Priti Patel to demand urgent action over labour exploitation.
The joint letter, signed by 40 retailers and over 50 cross-party MPs, is calling on the government to introduce a “Fit-to-trade” licensing scheme for garment factories in the UK.
The scheme would “protect workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment, ensuring payment of National Minimum Wage, VAT, PAYE, National Insurance, holiday pay and health and safety.”
It would also encourage retailers to source more of their clothing from the UK, supporting the development of an ethical, world-leading garment manufacturing industry.
It is estimated that over 10,000 garment factory workers are being paid an average of £3.50 an hour – well below the National Minimum Wage of £8.72.
The BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “The BRC has repeatedly called on government to do more to prevent labour exploitation in the UK garment manufacturing industry.
“Despite numerous reports in the media, and a previous letter to the home secretary signed by over 50 MPs and peers and more than 40 retailers, investors and NGOs, we have not seen any significant action from government to bring this injustice to an end. All the while garment workers are robbed of tens of millions of pounds in wages.
“Our members continue to stand firm against labour exploitation. Implementing statutory licensing of UK garment factories would ensure they are all ‘Fit to Trade’. We hope the home secretary joins us in this fight.”
Dr Lisa Cameron MP, commented: “Right now, we have an opportunity to create a more ethical and sustainable fashion manufacturing industry in the UK, providing better jobs and boosting the economy at a time when it is needed most.
“It is vital the home secretary takes action to introduce a licensing scheme for UK garment manufacturers and puts the rights of workers at the heart of the industry. Without urgent action thousands more people face exploitation.”
The latest intervention follows the increased scrutiny of UK garment factories, with the conditions affecting workers in certain factories in Leicester, that supply the likes of Boohoo, coming in to serious question. Boohoo has vowed to act decisively to improve conditions.