July 20, 2020 / 2:07 AM / 21 days ago

UK lawmakers, retailers call for action to prevent garment workers' exploitation

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of 50 British lawmakers, retailers such as Marks & Spencer and New Look, and investors and NGOs called on Monday for urgent action to prevent the exploitation of garment factory workers in the United Kingdom.

Their joint letter, coordinated by industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and addressed to interior minister Priti Patel, asked for the introduction of statutory licensing of garment factories to ensure they all meet their legal obligations to employees.

The letter was published following recent media reports of workers being paid below the minimum wage, not being supplied with personal protection equipment (PPE) and working in unsafe conditions.

Britain’s minimum wage is 8.72 pounds ($10.95) for people over 25 years old and 8.20 pounds for people aged 21 to 24.

The BRC said it and its members have long been calling for greater enforcement by the authorities to support the actions retailers are taking to ensure fair treatment of workers and to encourage businesses to invest in UK fashion manufacturing.

“Recent reports in the media demonstrate the urgent need for action before more workers are needlessly taken advantage of,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

The letter said the proposed licensing scheme would protect workers from forced labour and mistreatment, ensure payment of taxes and create a level playing field for businesses to compete fairly by preventing rogue manufacturers undercutting prices.

It would also encourage retailers to source their clothing from the UK, supporting the development of the industry.

Retailer signatories include ASOS, Walmart owned Asda, M & S, Morrisons, N Brown, Joules, New Look, River Island and Matalan.

Online fashion retailer Boohoo was not a signatory. It wrote its own letter to Patel on Friday backing a licensing scheme.

“We fully support the proposals of the BRC and others on the need to implement statutory licensing of garment factory owners and managers,” said a Boohoo spokesman.

Investor signatories include Allianz Global Investors, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, Fidelity International, Jupiter Asset Management and Schroders Investment Management.

($1 = 0.7962 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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