LONDON – Garment factories in the UK supplying to major fast fashion brands are flouting National Minimum Wage laws according to new data. Information from HMRC, sent to the Environmental Audit Committee as part of its inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry, shows UK-based garment factory owners have been forced to pay out almost £90,000 to employees for non-payment of minimum wage since 2012. An average of £900 has been paid out to 126 factory workers, however, given the difficulty of bringing about cases in this area, it is very likely these figures represent the tip of the iceberg.
The figures were provided by Janet Alexander, Director, Individuals and Small Business Compliance, following the Committee’s request for further information about HMRC’s textile industry casework at the 18 December 2018 evidence session.
They show that one in four investigations by HMRC found non-payment of the National Minimum Wage. The Committee was also told that 14 investigations are ongoing.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said: “‘Made in the UK’ should mean workers are paid at least the minimum wage. It has been 20 years since the introduction of the minimum wage but in our inquiry we heard that under payment is rife and goes hand in hand with a culture of fear and intimidation in the UK’s textile industry.
“This letter adds to the scandalous and growing evidence of workers being criminally underpaid in the UK.
“This must stop. We need Government action to end these 19th century practices in 21st century Britain.”
Editor’s comment: At a time when NGOs from the west are campaigning about the lack of a living wage in Bangladesh, the fact that UK workers making clothing for western brands are not even being paid a minimum wage, let alone a living wage, illustrates the complexity of this issue. Calls for textile reshoring have often been made on the assumption that bringing textile production back to the UK and other western nations will mean clothing is made in better working conditions and for better pay than in South East Asia. These latest figures, as well as the more general findings of the Environmental Audit Committee, suggest this is anything but the case.