U.K. Retailers Seek More Staff Protection After Abuse Revealed

ASOS Plc, Marks & Spencer Group Plc and Walmart Inc.’s Asda are among retailers calling for greater protection of garment factory workers in Britain in the wake of labor abuse reports at a site supplying Boohoo Group Plc.

More than 90 retailers, lawmakers and investors signed an open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging immediate action. The joint letter, coordinated by the British Retail Consortium and published Monday, called for the U.K. to implement a “Fit to Trade” licensing program that will ensure all clothing factories meet legal obligations including the minimum wage, holiday pay and providing health and safety protection.

Boohoo has lost about 40% of its market value since the Sunday Times reported on July 5 that a Leicester factory supplying the company was paying workers less than half the minimum wage and failing to implement social-distancing measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

Boohoo wasn’t asked to sign the BRC letter because it’s not a member of the trade group. The company wrote its own letter to the government last week to say it was investigating allegations of malpractice in its supply chain. It also endorsed the BRC’s call to implement protective measures for workers employed in garment factories.

“A concerning number of garment workers in key hubs in the U.K., such as Leicester, have continued to work in factories throughout lockdown without adequate PPE or social-distancing measures in place,” said the BRC letter, which was also signed by investors including Allianz Global Investors GmbH and Schroders Investment Management.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive officer of the BRC, said action is needed urgently before more workers are needlessly exploited.

“While there is no silver bullet, licensing is a critical step toward resolving this issue,” she said in a statement. “The public want to know that the clothes they buy have been made by workers who are respected, valued and protected by the law.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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