A dynamic, but skewed industry: Supply chain relations and working conditions in UK garment manufacturing
Martin Buttle, Ethical Trading Initiative
Wednesday, 10 May 2017, 1pm to 2pm
Seminar Room 1, Queen Elizabeth House, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TB
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers' rights around the globe. Since 2013, ETI has been concerned about the employment practices in the Leicester garment industry. Working with the University of Leicester Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, ETI has commissioned research into the issues. We have evidence of workers – predominantly from the South Asian community (as well as Eastern Europeans) – being employed without employment contracts; being paid wages well below minimum wage levels; doing excessive and under-reported working hours; working in dangerous conditions and in general conditions of informality. Unfortunately these are not isolated cases and limited labour market regulations are insufficient to tackle emergent industry practices. This presentation will argue that whilst some of these issues can be linked to socio-cultural norms, immigrant vulnerabilities, criminality and local mismanagement, it is also a product of a new dynamic industry that is linked with the business models and purchasing practices of high street retailers. Over the past two years ETI has convened a working group of retailers, trade unions, NGOs and the University of Leicester to tackle the systemic issues linked to low wages and poor employment practices. Whilst some progress has been made the issues remain and have been brought to a new prominence by a recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary and a visit of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the City. The presentation will reflect on these experiences and what else needs to happen to ensure a safer, fairer industry to thrive.