UK factories must be part of safe and transparent supply chains

A focus on the treatment of workers in Leicester’s garment factories, created by a damning new report, is “much-needed”, according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Recognising the many safe factories, the Labour Behind the Label report highlights low pay in these factories uncovered from previous research – as little as £3 an hour – and serious worker allegations around wellbeing during Covid-19, including no physical distancing or hand sanitiser, working when ill and modern slavery.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has now visited several factory premises in Leicester and has issued health and safety advice to them, with enforcement action and further spot inspections to take place in the coming days and weeks. 

With an estimated 40.3 million victims of modern slavery worldwide – around 13,000 of them in the UK – IOSH, the global body for health and safety professionals, says this focus on factories must extend throughout supply chains.

The institution has urged that as always, and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital that workers’ health and safety is prioritised and there must be proper risk assessment and controls. 

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Regulatory Engagement at IOSH, said: “Increased attention on the wellbeing and management of factory workers is much-needed and welcome and must extend into supply chains.

“IOSH continues to call for improved due diligence and supply chain transparency; licensing of the garment industry; effective enforcement; and consideration of a quality-mark for good work conditions.”

Last year, IOSH published a white paper calling on Government and businesses to do more to fight modern slavery. In it, the results of a YouGov survey were revealed, which showed that:

  • 63% of people in the UK are concerned modern slavery is involved in products or services they use;
  • 84% want national awareness campaigns; 
  • 87% believe major retailers and manufacturers should help their suppliers prevent modern slavery;
  • 83% believe employers should ensure workers have training on how to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains;
  • and 76% believe that all organisations legally required to provide modern slavery statements, must say how they are tackling it.

The concerns surrounding Leicester garment factories are long-standing, with poor pay and unsafe buildings highlighted by the House of Lords Committee on Human Rights in 2017 and by the Environmental Audit Committee in 2019.

Earlier this year Andrew Bridgen MP, speaking to The Guardian, dubbed it a “national shame”, saying:

“This is Leicester’s dirty secret. These illegal businesses are not only keeping their workers in miserable conditions, they’re also undermining the marketplace for legitimate businesses to make a living in a very difficult market. 

“I’ve seen the buildings where these workers are and it is shocking: the buildings are condemned – if there was a fire there then hundreds would die, and this is Britain in 2020. It’s a national shame.” 

IOSH advises workers to raise any health and safety concerns they have at work with their managers or, if not adequately addressed, with the HSE: 0300 790 6787.

Employers can access free UK Government guidance on working safely during COVID-19 in factories, plants and warehouses here and can download free guidance on returning safely from IOSH. 

  • Covid-19
  • Modern slavery
  • Responsibility & accountability
  • Wellbeing
  • Welfare
  • Clothing and Textiles
  • IOSH News release