Health Secretary Has 'Significant Concerns' About Leicester Clothing Factories

It comes amid claims workers were being paid less than the minimum wage and operating without social distancing in the locked-down city.

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The health secretary has said he has “significant concerns” about employment practices at clothing factories in Leicester, amid reports that workers are being paid less than the minimum wage and are operating without social distancing.

Matt Hancock said there had been coronavirus outbreaks at food and clothing producers in the city as home secretary Priti Patel insisted “sweatshops” will not be tolerated.

It came after the Sunday Times reported allegations that workers in a Leicester factory making clothes for Boohoo brand Nasty Gal were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour and operating without social distancing measures in place.

The factory allegedly displayed the sign of Jaswal Fashions but the firm told The Times it stopped trading in 2018 and did not supply to Boohoo. Boohoo also said in a statement that Jaswal Fashions was not a “declared supplier” and it appeared a different company was using the firm’s former premises. “We are currently trying to establish the identity of this company,” Boohoo said.

Leicester was last week placed into the UK’s first local lockdown amid an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.

Hancock said stopping the spread of the virus was “the number one problem” and stressed that “very significant fines” could be handed out or businesses shut down if employment laws and government workplace safety guidance were found to have been breached.

He did not say if any fines had yet been levied but told Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday: “We’re not just asking nicely, we are very clear to businesses that these are their responsibilities”.

He added: “We’ve seen outbreaks in food factories and in clothing factories. There are some quite significant concerns about some of the employment practices in some of the clothing factories in Leicester.

“They are important problems to deal with, but the number one problem that we’ve got to deal with is getting this virus under control.”

Patel said the allegations in the Sunday Times were “appalling”.

“I will not tolerate sick criminals forcing innocent people into slave labour and a life of exploitation.

“Let this be a warning to those who are exploiting people in sweatshops like these for their own commercial gain.

“This is just the start. What you are doing is illegal, it will not be tolerated and we are coming after you.”

The National Crime Agency said in a statement: “Within the last few days NCA officers, along with Leicestershire Police and other partner agencies, attended a number of business premises in Leicester area to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking.”

Nasty Gal told the Sunday Times that the company would investigate the claims but said the factory are not a “direct supplier”.

It said: “Nasty Gal does not allow any of its suppliers to pay less than the minimum wage and has a zero-tolerance approach to incidences of modern slavery.

“We have terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of noncompliance with our strict code of conduct is found.

“We will take immediate steps to fully investigate the allegations raised.”

This story was updated on 13 July to reflect a clarification made to The Sunday Times’ reporting and a statement from Boohoo.


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