We may think of countries such as China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh that mainly manufacture the clothes we wear; but in the UK a lot of online retail giants such as ‘boohoo’ also use UK in-house manufacturing factories. Leicester has recently found itself in the mainstream media for a couple of unfortunate reasons. Firstly, the city has been reported to be notoriously poor at containing and minimising the spread of the coronavirus, which may result in a second lockdown for the region. Secondly, due to the increased online buying habits and the disruption and closure of certain UK manufacturing factories, the immoral and unregulated working conditions of these factories are being probed and highly examined.
The unethical treatment and brutal working conditions do not exempt UK factories. Leicester, amongst other clothes production cities like Manchester, have become the subject of a heated discussion due to the premise that their factory employees can be paid as little as £3 per hour, which is gravely lower than the legal minimum wage (£7.83).
Retail giants, specifically ‘boohoo’ have received a lot of backlash for their unethical supply chain that seems to source and manufacture their clothes at the detriment of migrant workers. Fashion consumption has increased dramatically, and with that comes an overwhelming amount of pressure to fulfil these needs by the supply chain. “Speed is our main USP and the UK is as quick as you can get,” said Nitin Passi, founder of online retailer Missguided, in 2014.
Nowadays, the demand for ‘fast fashion’ has increased significantly. There are more styles and choice than ever; an abundance of social media influences and influencers in sensationalised paid promotional content; and unlimited and unfiltered access to digital online stores, through websites and apps and laptops. As a nation, we have become accustomed to the functionality and accessibility of apps such as ASOS, boohoo and Missguided for example, which allow to you to browse a plethora of ever-changing fashionable products from the comfort of your sofa. Despite the UK’s factory conditions having a long linear history of mistreatment, the perks of ‘fast fashion ‘are specifically designed to curb your appetite for a thrill or instantaneous gratification, that makes the reality of the situation temporarily subside.
We can acknowledge that with ‘fast fashion’ comes with it an increase in the demand of clothes, pressurising digital companies to locate and source their products in a fast and efficient order to fulfil this need. With fierce competition and cheap labour as a viable and easy option, sadly it is the labour costs that can be compromised and dissolved as the retailers please. Leicester in particular seems to have its own bubble of rules that contradict that of the government.
These ‘dark factories’ have gained so much backlash that authorities and retail giants need to act fast. Many people are putting immense pressure on the government to actually enforce the legal wage requirements of all factories, holding some penalties against those who do not cooperate and enabling a sustainable supply chain for all those that are in it. It is no longer becoming acceptable for fashion to be compromised from its very inception. Workers as a basic human right deserve legal pay, good working conditions and respect from their employers. Companies need to find another method to undercut costs without harming the livelihood of their suppliers. There must be a harmony of both sourcing and manufacturing clothes that must be upheld in an ethical manner. People want their consumption habits fulfilled, but clearly at a cost - an ethical one.
By Jaina Pankhania