In our campaign to improve the working conditions for people employed in UK garment factories, we co-ordinated a multi-stakeholder letter to the Home Secretary calling for a 'Fit-to-Trade' licensing scheme so that no factory could operate unless it was approved by the labour enforcement agencies.

This letter was signed by almost 100 retailers, MPs, investors, NGOs and other stakeholders (download below), and sent on 18 July 2020 by Lisa Cameron MP, Baroness Young of Hornsey and BRC's CEO Helen Dickinson OBE.

We sent a follow up letter 3 months later, which noted that garment factory workers were collectively losing £2 million a week in under payment of wages (see press release 'Factory workers robbed of tens of millions in wages'). 

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins has responded to the original letter to say: 

"The Government is committed to tackling modern slavery and will not tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable workers for commercial gain...

"...We will continue to consider the most appropriate measures do this alongside the work of the Taskforce that has been set up in Leicester. My officials are in touch with representatives from the British Retail Consortium regarding this proposal and will continue discussions on what solutions are available for the garment industry to support the Government’s commitment to eradicate modern slavery."

The full response can be downloaded below.

FIT-TO-TRADE LICENSING

Under this proposal - which is based on the existing licensing scheme for labour providers to the food and farming industry - garment factories have to have a license to be able to operate.

To get the license they have to be checked that they are operating in line with the law. We would say these checks by enforcement agencies would, as a minimum, cover protection of workers from forced labour, debt bondage and mistreatment of workers, ensuring payment of National Minimum Wage, VAT, PAYE, National Insurance, Holiday Pay and Health and Safety.

Businesses would be checked on a regular basis that they are in compliant with the law. Those that prove again and again they are would likely be checked fewer and fewer times, whereas those with problems would be issued a warning and a set of recommendations to implement within a set time. If the business fails to improve its license would be removed and it would no longer be able to operate.