Public Statement

Public statement by Fast Forward regarding issues highlighted within the Leicester garment industry – 9th July 2020

Exploitation of workers in the UK textile and garment sector has been reported many times in recent years. Notably the 2015 report by the University of Leicester which highlighted that the majority of workers in Leicester’s garment sector earned around £3 per hour; in 2018 submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which repeated the issues in Leicester and then the Financial Times report ‘Dark Factories’, which confirmed similar findings.

Recent reports by Labour Behind the Label, the Sunday Times, The Guardian and other media outlets emphasise that these exploitative practices remain normal practice for unethical manufacturers.

Fast Forward was developed together with fashion retailers in 2014 to address concerns of exploitative practices in UK fashion manufacturing going undetected by existing social compliance audits.

Proven as an effective methodology to uncover hidden exploitation and drive continuous improvement, Fast Forward is now operated by a growing number of brands and retailers including ASOS, Debenhams, Fred Perry, M&S, New Look, Next, River Island and The Very Group, across a range of UK sectors.

These retailers efforts to improve labour practices in UK garment fashion factories through the Fast Forward programme, training, de-listing exploitative suppliers, intelligence sharing with authorities, and collaborating through the Apparel and General Merchandise Public Private Protocol have not changed the systemic issues linked to poor practices in factories. As a result of the systemic non-compliance to legal standards, many retailers have significantly reduced their UK sourcing and buy much of their product from overseas.

Together with these retailers, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and others, Fast Forward believes that the UK has the potential to build a world-leading, innovative, ethical fashion and textile manufacturing industry, delivering decent and highly skilled creative jobs. However, this vision will remain unrealised unless decisive and lasting action is taken by the Government and labour market enforcement authorities to end the endemic exploitation of large groups of vulnerable workers in many UK garment factories.

Fast Forward supports the BRC’s call on Government to urgently implement statutory licensing to ensure these businesses are ‘Fit to Trade’. This would, as a minimum, cover protection of workers from forced labour, debt bondage, illegal and unsafe working conditions and mistreatment, ensuring payment of National Minimum Wage, VAT, PAYE, National Insurance, Holiday Pay and Health and Safety. Licensing would first and foremost protect workers, but it will also enable legitimate fashion manufacturing businesses to compete fairly and will provide assurance of compliance to retailers to source from the UK and support the development of an ethical, creative world-leading industry.

A more robust approach to ending unethical labour practices in the UK would also encourage businesses to become less reliant on overseas sourcing and provide an incentive to invest in the UK by onshoring production lines. This has become more prevalent over recent months as Covid-19 has magnified the insecurities of global supply chains, leading some businesses to consider investing in textile manufacturing in the UK if labour conditions and enforcement were improved. If many businesses were to follow suit, this would have the potential to create thousands of jobs in the UK, and increase our domestic capacity for producing PPE where necessary.

Complementing this approach, Brands committed to seeking improvements in UK fashion manufacturing conditions can join Fast Forward to collaborate, provide a robust process of due diligence, effectively uncover hidden exploitative practices and support suppliers willing to improve through training and access to guidance and resources. We welcome conversations with new Brands interested in joining the programme at this important juncture. We believe it is critical that workers are not abandoned at this time by a reactive move away from Leicester and wider UK fashion manufacturing. They should instead receive effective remedy and be the beneficiaries of concerted efforts to rebuild an ethical UK fashion manufacturing sector, alongside the Brands and factories committed to this vision.


Notes to editors:

About Fast Forward:

Fast Forward is a next-generation audit and improvement programme that works for all suppliers and service providers, in all sectors, at all stages of their social compliance journey. Fast Forward was developed together with apparel retailers in 2014 to address concerns of exploitative practices in UK fashion being undetected by existing social compliance audits. Proven as an effective methodology to uncover hidden exploitation and drive continuous improvement, this collaborative programme is operated by an ever-growing number of brands and retailers in a range of UK sectors.

The forensic audit process uncovers audit evasion and hidden exploitation including indicators of forced labour and assesses adherence to employment laws and ethical labour standards requirements. Fast Forward also supports suppliers with the training, guidance and resources they need to improve and recognises those suppliers who are considered leading. Fast Forward is an initiative of allianceHR.

About the Apparel & General Merchandise Public-Private Protocol

The Apparel and General Merchandise Public and Private Protocol commits signatories to work together to eradicate slavery and exploitation in textile supply chains. They have pledged to raise awareness to prevent worker exploitation, protect vulnerable and exploited workers, disrupt exploitative practices and help bring criminals to justice.

Enforcement bodies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Employment Agency Standards inspectorate, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), HMRC, Immigration Enforcement and the Insolvency Service have also signed the document, which is supported by industry bodies British Retail Consortium, UK Fashion and Textile Association, and auditing programme Fast Forward.