Bri­tish tex­tile fac­to­ries are ‘a ticking time bomb’

Fash­ion ri­vals call for more pro­tec­tion for ‘ex­ploited’ work­ers be­fore they can back UK man­u­fac­tur­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Ash­ley Arm­strong

UN­SAFE work­ing con­di­tions in the heart of Bri­tain’s tex­tiles in­dus­try are a “ticking time bomb” pre­vent­ing the re­turn of man­u­fac­tur­ing from off­shore, ac­cord­ing to two top fash­ion chief ex­ec­u­tives.

Nick Beighton, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Asos, and An­ders Kris­tiansen, who leads New Look, have teamed up to speak out over prac­tices at fac­to­ries in Le­ices­ter, home to a third of the do­mes­tic sec­tor. The fash­ion ri­vals are now call­ing for mea­sures to be in­tro­duced to pro­tect work­ers be­fore they can in­vest more in the UK.

Both Asos and New Look said they want to do more man­u­fac­tur­ing in Bri­tain but are re­luc­tant be­cause of un­safe and of­ten il­le­gal con­di­tions.

Mr Beighton said: “Our goal is to bring cus­tomers the best fash­ion as quickly as pos­si­ble, and there’s noth­ing faster than man­u­fac­tur­ing in the UK.

“We would like to triple the amount of prod­uct we source from the UK over the next five years.”

Mr Kris­tiansen said New Look could dou­ble its £35m or­ders from Le­ices­ter fac­to­ries but was “afraid of us­ing th­ese units be­cause what is go­ing on is just so plainly wrong”.

“It is a ticking time bomb,” he added. “Many of th­ese fac­to­ries have un­safe con­di­tions with fire es­capes blocked up, work­ers ex­ploited and paid far be­low min­i­mum wage. What hap­pens if there is another mas­sive fire, what will it take for peo­ple to wake up?”

The chief ex­ec­u­tives have sched­uled a meet­ing in Oc­to­ber with Peter Soulsby, Le­ices­ter’s mayor, HM Rev­enue and Cus­toms, po­lice and the fire bri­gade to call for stricter en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing laws. Mr Beighton and Mr Kris­tiansen have also warned in ev­i­dence to the Hu­man Rights Se­lect Com­mit­tee that a re­nais­sance of Bri­tish tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing could be “fa­tally de­railed” by dan­ger­ous work­ing prac­tices and “sweat­shop” wages.

The Gov­ern­ment has been weigh­ing new pow­ers for coun­cils to shut down fac­to­ries that break the rules but Mr Beighton and Mr Kris­tiansen have been frus­trated by the lack of progress.

“Ev­ery­one knows what is go­ing on, but no one is lis­ten­ing, they are turn­ing a blind eye to it,” said Mr Kris­tiansen.

“We have worked so hard to im­prove man­u­fac­tur­ing stan­dards in Asia and there are th­ese con­di­tions hap­pen­ing at home. There are al­ready laws that should be pre­vent­ing this, they just need to be en­forced. We are say­ing, if you en­force the laws, we will in­vest,” the New Look boss said.

Mr Kris­tiansen said New Look had slashed the num­ber of UK fac­to­ries it uses from 118 three years ago to 12 af­ter a string of failed in­spec­tions.

In Jan­uary it emerged that Bri­tish work­ers were be­ing paid as lit­tle as £3 an hour – half the le­gal min­i­mum wage re­quire­ment – to make clothes for top high street chains in­clud­ing New Look and River Is­land. New Look said that the work had been passed to a rogue fac­tory by a sub-con­trac­tor with­out its knowl­edge and it had im­me­di­ately torn up its con­tract with those in­volved.

The Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium has also been ap­ply­ing pres­sure on Gov­ern­ment for more changes to be made. “Whilst there are some out­stand­ing UK fac­to­ries, there are, how­ever, short­falls in many oth­ers,” said Peter An­drews, BRC di­rec­tor of food and sus­tain­abil­ity.

‘Ev­ery­one knows what is go­ing on, but no one is lis­ten­ing, they are turn­ing a blind eye to it’

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