U.K. Lawmakers Seek Garment Trade Watchdog to Quash Labor Abuses

The U.K. needs a watchdog to enforce rules about making clothes in the country after a string of labor scandals involving fashion retailers, lawmakers said.

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee wrote to the government asking it to consider introducing a Garment Trade Adjudicator -- a new watchdog similar to one that exists for Britain’s grocery sector.

The move could help prevent fashion brands from putting undue pressure on suppliers to cut corners on pay and working conditions, the committee said in a letter to the U.K.’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“Purchasing a garment with a ‘Made in the U.K.’ label ought to be a guarantee that workers who produced it are paid at least the minimum wage in a workplace which is safe,” Philip Dunne, the member of parliament who chairs the committee, said in the letter. “We found that it is not.”

Britain’s clothing manufacturing industry, which predominantly operates out of the city of Leicester, has been beset with controversy in recent years.

Last year, allegations emerged that workers at factories in Leicester that supply Boohoo Group Plc, the fast-growing online brand, were paid less than minimum wage and were working in unsafe conditions. An independent review cleared Boohoo of any direct involvement, but the report’s author said the company had prioritized profit and growth and ignored concerns about labor violations.

Last month, Liberty Shared, a charity campaigning against modern-day slavery, petitioned U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ban clothing imports from Boohoo and most factories in Leicester. The organization said the concentration of suppliers there means products are potentially made, at least in part, by forced labor.

In his letter, Dunne said the recent consolidation in Britain’s retail sector will further increase fashion brands’ power over garment suppliers. In the past month, the Topshop and Debenhams brands have been bought by online operators Asos Plc and Boohoo respectively.

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