Fashion retailers commit to tackling modern slavery

By agency reporter
November 14, 2018

Some of Britain’s biggest fashion retailers are joining with enforcement bodies to help eradicate modern slavery from the UK textiles industry.

John Lewis, M&S, New Look, NEXT, River Island and Shop Direct are putting their signatures to a joint agreement aimed at combating labour exploitation in UK textiles manufacturing.

The intent is to send a strong signal that the textiles sector is resolved to playing its part in discouraging labour abuse and taking action when it does occur.

The Apparel and General Merchandise Public and Private Protocol commits signatories to work together to eradicate slavery and exploitation in textile supply chains. They have pledged to raise awareness to prevent worker exploitation, protect vulnerable and exploited workers and disrupt exploitative practices and help bring criminals to justice.

Enforcement bodies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Employment Agency Standards inspectorate, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), HMRC, Immigration Enforcement and the Insolvency Service have also signed the document, which is supported by industry bodies British Retail Consortium, UK Fashion and Textile Association, and auditing system Fast Forward.

The textiles sector is a high risk industry for labour exploitation and the GLAA believes this partnership will enhance efforts to root it out of supply chains and reassure workers and customers of the efforts being made by the UK industry.

The announcement follows the latest meeting of the Modern Slavery Taskforce, created by Prime Minister Theresa May, which discussed how to better identify and tackle forced labour in business supply chains.

The Prime Minister said: “I welcome the action being taken by businesses which are leading the way in being open and transparent about the modern slavery risks they face, and have pledged to raise awareness to prevent slavery, protect vulnerable workers and help bring more criminals to justice.”

GLAA Director of Operations Ian Waterfield said: “Tens of thousands of people are employed in the textiles industry in the UK and it contributes billions of pounds to the UK economy. That alone makes it an attractive proposition for unscrupulous employers and criminals who exploit workers.

“The signing of this protocol is a significant step because it sends a clear message of intent from both the industry and law enforcement that exploiting people for their labour will not be tolerated. The GLAA is the enemy of illegitimate working practices and criminality, and a friend to legitimate businesses targeted by those who commit exploitation.”

Peter Andrews of BRC said: “This is an important step in our collaborative efforts to end the ill treatment of any workers suffering under exploitative employers in UK fashion and textile factories. The responsible businesses signing up to this Protocol demonstrate that relationships with suppliers have to be based on decent working practices. Joint efforts by industry and government are essential if we are to truly eradicate these abhorrent practices.

Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) said: “Through initiatives such as the protocol, UKFT is committed to working with manufacturers to help ensure that their employment practices, welfare standards and quality assurance procedures are higher than those required by law. A long term, equitable relationship between retailers and manufacturers will help the UK fashion and textile manufacturing sector grow and develop.

“We also actively encourage consumers to think very carefully about how their fashion and textile products are made. As the costs of raw materials and labour increase, the consumer will need to accept that it will not be possible to continually reduce prices – wherever the goods are made.”

* The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority http://www.gla.gov.uk/

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