Harriet Harman, chair of the Human Rights Committee
the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Harriet Harman MP, has called for
councils to have new powers to close down sweatshops that breach health and
made the comments following a fact-finding mission last week to factories in
Leicester on behalf of her committee investigating poor health and safety standards
conditions in the UK garment manufacturing industry.
visit Ms Harman said that her committee was looking into the possibility of
councils being able to inspect garment factories and having the powers to close
them down if they breach health and safety rules, much in the same way that
EHOs close food premises posing a risk to health.
is supportive of such a move because all well-run factories are being undercut
by those that use desperately unscrupulous practices,’ said Ms Harman.
that between a third and three quarters of workers were being paid below the minimum
wage and working in unsafe conditions.
for around one third of the UK’s textile manufacturing output. The industry has
become the focus of attention around poor employment practices following research by the University of Leicester revealing systematic abuses.
revealed that workers were being paid as little as £3 and hour, an almost
complete absence of employment contracts, excessive and under reported hours
along with gross health and safety violations and limited enforcement of labour
regulations and standards.
of textiles is currently a Health and Safety Executive enforced sector.
Leicester Council says that it works through its local enterprise partnership
and garment manufacturers in a bid to protect workers but would welcome greater
Waddington, Leicester’s assistant city mayor responsible for jobs and
skills, said: ‘Local authorities do
have powers to inspect and close down other premises – for example, fast-food
outlets – so we would welcome a change that gave councils similar powers in
this area. However, this would have to be backed up with appropriate
funding support from central government.’
The scale of the abuses in the garment
industry in Leicester were further illustrated in a recent Channel 4 Dispatches
programme Undercover: Britain’s CheapClothes.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI),
representing businesses, NGOs and unions that promote ethical trading, has been
raising concerns about employment standards, particularly amongst South Asian
women and undocumented migrant workers, for a number of years.
The ETI is calling for a pan-agency
response including councils, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, HSE and HM
Revenue and Customs.
ETI spokesperson Jane Moyo said : ‘The sector has some very bad practice
within it that ranges from very low pay to poor health and safety issues and
out garment members have come to us because more and more people are sourcing
Leicester is the major source for garments in the UK there are issue in other
areas, like for example north London, because it is all about a trade that
relies on semi-skilled workers and often migrant workers so it is preying on
spokesperson told EHN: ‘The HSE is presently carrying out limited proactive inspection of
textile manufacturing companies, where there is evidence to suggest health and
safety standards at an individual company are likely to be poor.’