Recently it has come to light that garment workers in Leicester have been getting paid as little as £3.50 an hour. In the UK you can start earning the minimum wage from when you leave school at 16 and that can range from £4.55 to £8.72, however this depends on your age if you are between 16 and 24, we now have the living wage which is £9.30 an hour (or £10.75 if you live in London) which employers must pay employees over the age of 25, but they can also choose to pay their employees. This has not been the case with Boohoo.
Historically Leicester was the garment making capital of England, that can be traced back to the industrial ages. With the blow up of fast fashion where garment workers are paid significantly less, manufacturing was shipped overseas leading to a struggling sector is Leicester. Despite this a lot of people still went to wholesale suppliers and market traders from Leicester, even high street stores have been known to do this when they needed quick stock. However, trade started getting moved back to Leicester gradually, Missguided and Boohoo being included. It is estimated that Boohoo and Missguided source at least half of their clothes in the UK usually from areas such as Leicester, Manchester and London. It was estimated that Boohoo’s market value has doubled to roughly £2.3 billion since they first listed on London’s Aim exchange back in 2014.
It has come out that there is a part of Leicester’s garment industry became detached from the rest of the UK and British employment law, it slowly became a country within a country that went unnoticed for so long. There have been claimed that in some cases the highest wage is only £5 an hour, if it was any other part of the UK it would deemed illegal; along with blocked fire escapes, old machines and no holiday or sick pay, the conditions these people have been working in is inhumane. In a government report from 2018, it appeared to be a bizarre microeconomy where larger factories in the area use machines that are out competed by smaller rivals that massively underpay their workers.
This has led to the argument once again of retailers blaming the factories for their unethical practices and mistreatment of workers, and then the factories blaming the retailers for constantly pushing for lower prices.
Saeed Khilji, chairman of the Textile Manufacturer Association of Leicestershire, set up the organisation because local voices weren’t being heard and he wanted to give them this chance to speak up. Meeting workers and seeing payslips that are cleverly manipulated to make it look like they are earning a legal wage, but if “you’re working 40 hours for £4 an hour, but legally you should get almost £8- so these people are showing 20 hours at £8 an hour,” is how these factories have gotten away with it for so long.
When an illegal operation has been going on for so long it can be hard to pin it down. However now we know the problem and hopefully these workers can be saved from exploitation.