Leicester factories exposed on Channel 4 documentary
A Channel 4 documentary has lifted the lid on working conditions inside three of Leicester’s textile factories last night in an investigation which accused one of firms of paying workers just £3 an hour.
Dispatches visited Leicester-based Fashion Square, which works on clothes for River Island.
Secret cameras capture one textile boss revealing that he considers he’s in direct competition with Bangladesh to meet the orders.
He was filmed saying: “We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh. They can get it cheap there. How will they get it made cheaper here? If we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss.”
A Dispatches undercover reporter, Belal, got a job in Fashion Square to report on the conditions inside the factory. As a new recruit he is put to work at the end of the production line, Belal’s job was to stick bar codes and labels on clothes – labels for River Island.
River Island’s most recent published accounts, 2014, show they made an operating profit of £144m.
After two days working in the factory Belal was still not been told how much he will get paid, or when.
Belal should have been paid at least the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour, but left with a £110 for a week – which worked out at £3 for packing and pressing the River Island dresses.
Channel 4 said it hasn’t yet received a statement for broadcast from Fashion Square. But in correspondence the firm denied anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage.
In response, River Island said: “The recent Dispatches investigation has highlighted issues with a supplier in breach of River Island’s ethical trading policy by sub-contracting work to a non-approved factory.
“This factory was removed from our Approved Factory List in February 2016 following two failed audits and suppliers were informed not to use this factory for any of our orders.
“We are investigating this issue and will take appropriate action.”
Back in 2010 Dispatches filmed undercover in a Leicester factory where workers were being paid £2 an hour. They were making clothes for High Street fashion chain New Look. At the time New Look told Dispatches that the factory had been subcontracted without their approval, and that they didn’t know about conditions there. New Look also said all its suppliers were required to pay workers a living wage.
In November 2016, Belal had a new job in a factory right in Leicester – the company sign has been painted over – but Channel 4 says the man who hires Belal doesn’t check he has the necessary documents to work legally in the UK.
Belal worked producing yellow jumpers destined for high street chain New Look, which retailed at £19.99.
Belal was told by another worker that the pay was £3 an hour, despite there being a poster on the wall about the national minimum rates for 2014/15. His pay was later confirmed at £3.50 per hour, less than half the legal minimum.
While Channel 4’s reporter wasn’t told the name of the factory where he is working for, he did find paperwork from New Look about the jumpers. It’s an order form from New Look and it’s addressed to a company called TS Knitwear (UK) Ltd, which is registered to another address in Leicester.
Dispatches says TS Knitwear has subcontracted work to the factory.
On its website New Look says it protects workers in its supply chain and promotes its ethical work in Bangladesh.
New Look responded by saying: “Following an audit last summer, we made it clear to TS Knitwear, that the factory in question did not meet our ethical standards and should not be used.
“Since then TS Knitwear has subcontracted orders to this factory without our knowledge or consent and we have terminated our relationship with TS Knitwear with immediate effect. We will be working closely with the business to support all its workers who will be affected.”
TS Knitwear said it has “clear ethical guidelines” and that due to “an unusually large volume” of orders they outsourced some production. They were “dismayed” to learn about our investigation and said that as “it is very difficult to police outsourced work” they will now only manufacture in-house.
Meanwhile, at another Leicester firm, United Creations, Belal was paid to package a BooHoo jacket and mark up zips on dresses for Missguided. Belal is paid £3.25 per hour for his work.
Between 2013 and 2014 there were 5,500 fires in retail distribution and industrial premises in the UK. Belal was concerned about fire risks at United Creations, there was rubbish piled on the factory floor and the fire exits were blocked.
Professor Richard Booth, a health and safety expert, who has 40 years experience and has given evidence in high profile court cases, watched the footage and said he had concerns about what would happen in the event of a fire: “What people don’t appreciate is that fires happen very very rapidly, there’s a smoke build up, there’s a low ceiling, the people are partly panicking and the doors open the wrong way anyway.”
However, the thing which shocked Professor Booth the most is that the factory worker is smoking on the factory floor.
Professor Booth said: “That was the most remarkable sight on the video, I mean an absolute disgrace and he was walking around dropping ash in the main area where all the fabrics were being retained.”
Again, Dispatches said it was still waiting for a formal statement from United Creations but in correspondence they denied anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage. The firm also pointed out that an independent Fire Risk Assessment was carried out at the factory in June 2016.