“Dark factories: labour exploitation in Britain’s garment industry,” was the front-page feature article in the Financial Times (May 17) last week, and Leicester, sadly, was the main focus of the expose.
While the people of Leicester have suffered in recent years, it seems that some bosses have not, as “Since the financial crisis, dozens of upstart British online retailers have prospered” with one of the biggest of these being Boohoo, a company which sources many of their clothes from Leicester.
Boohoo’s market value, in a master stroke of profiteering, has apparently “more than doubled to about £2.3bn since listing on London’s Aim exchange in 2014.” As the Financial Times goes on to observe:
“Part of Leicester’s garment industry has become detached from UK employment law, “a country within a country”, as one factory owner puts it, where “£5 an hour is considered the top wage”, even though that is illegal. Doshi (not his real name) says he has worked in places with blocked fire escapes, old machines and no holiday or sick pay. There are garment factories that follow the law, but a “perceived culture of impunity”, as a 2018 government report puts it, has created a bizarre microeconomy where larger factories using machines are outcompeted by smaller rivals using underpaid humans.”
Under the Tories guidance, and that of New Labour before them, the growth of such intolerable working conditions has developed as “an open secret.” As a former chief executive of high-street retailer New Look put it:
“When I came to the UK and I discovered what was going on in Leicester, it was mind-blowing… This is happening in front of your eyes and nobody’s doing anything?!”
Saeed Khilji, the chairman of the Textile Manufacturer Association of Leicestershire, believes the problem is far worse than politicians will admit, estimating that “99 per cent” of our city’s garment workers are being paid less than the minimum wage. Of course, this capitalist rot is not unique to Leicester, with New York and Los Angeles contending with similar problems, the Financial Times noted, as is Prato in Italy.
In Leicester, however, moves are now afoot to try to come to terms with this immense problem, with enforcement agencies finally coming together to meet with the Labour-run City Council late last year…
“where the problems were discussed in detail. But a comb through freedom-of-information requests, MPs questions and public records does not reveal a state that has done much to sort this out.”
With this said, the Financial Times has little in the way of meaningful answers for addressing the existence of modern-day slavery under capitalism, and the article concludes on a down-note:
“In Leicester, life carries on. Doshi can’t sew any more, as his eyes are bad with cataracts and his back hurts. He applied for jobs at Tesco and Asda but they said his English was too poor. He has been going to college at night to study English but he failed his exam and was told there was no more government money to take it again. He went to see a sandwich factory but it was “all day stand up, it’s very fast, everything cold, cold”.
“Finally, the week before we met, a friend told him about a new garment factory that could give him a packing job. He went to the interview and asked about pay. The boss told him they would see how fast he could work. Maximum? £4.50 an hour. And if he was slow? £3.50.”
But now more than ever this madness must be brought to an end!
The Tories must be forced out of government so that a socialist government can take its place; and we must do everything in our power, through our existing trade unions structures (at a local and national level), to mobilize a collective fightback amongst workers and nonworkers alike.
We must strive to bring pressure to bear upon all our local labour politicians (councillors and MPs) to force them to take action to combat the existence of Leicester’s dark factories; and if your trade union is not affiliated to the Leicester and District Trades Union Council then make sure they do so, so we as workers can be better equipped to coordinate the much-needed fight-back.
As a final thought you might also consider attending the forthcoming meeting — “Britain needs a pay rise: lessons from the McDonalds strike” — on Saturday 16th June that is being organised by the National Shop Stewards Network (meet at the Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre from 3pm onwards).
Spread the word and get your family and friends involved in the struggle to rid this world of the anarchy of capitalism once and for all!
To read more about modern-day slavery in Leicester see “Leicester: £3 an hour wage slavery scandal” (The Socialist, March 11, 2015); “The dark depths of Amazon’s warehouses: how the Baker’s Union are organising the fightback” (Leicester Socialist Party, November 26, 2017); and Charles Wheeler’s recent article “The Trade Union movement must fight for justice for Leicester’s super-exploited garment workers” (Leicester Socialist Party, May 21, 2018).