‘Fear of being called racist’ stopped police from tackling sweatshops, Priti Patel believes

The Home Secretary is understood to consider that ‘cultural sensitivities’ prevented the police from tackling Leicester’s ‘slave’ sweatshops.

Priti Patel is thought to have raised concerns in today’s world that government agencies turned a blind eye to the factories where staff were paid significantly less than the minimum wage and worked in poor conditions, as reported by The Sunday Times. 

Ms Patel is thought to now be considering new laws on modern slavery after fears the current legislation is no ‘fit for purpose’.

A source near the Home Secretary told the newspaper: ‘This scandal has been hiding in plain sight and there are concerns cultural sensitivities could be simply to blame for why these appalling working methods haven’t been investigated.’ 

The investigation last week unmasked that clothes workers in Leicester are being paid as little as £3.50 one hour to produce items for some of the UK’s biggest fashion brands.

Ms Patel is thought to now be considering new laws on modern slavery after fears the current legislation is no ‘fit for purpose’

At one factory, where clothes at bound for on the web giant Boohoo and Nasty Gal, employees are thought to work for not even half the national minimum wage.

The undercover report by The Sunday Times also found that no additional hygiene or social distancing measures were set up, despite the city being in a localised lockdown as a result of an outbreak of the herpes virus.  

In covert footage, the undercover reporter records himself packing garments clearly labelled as ‘Nasty Gal’.

He can also be approached by the factory foreman, who warns: ‘These motherf***ers learn how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts.’

‘Take me for example, I’ve been working for so many years in this industry, I’ve been here for five years but never could I have a proper pay packet. I’m still only on just over £5 an hour.’    

Workshops in Leicester are used to produce incredibly cheap clothes for online retailers. Pictured: Workers at the Faiza Fashion factory in Leicester working despite the Leicester lockdown

Workshops in Leicester are used to produce incredibly inexpensive clothes for online retailers. Pictured: Workers at the Faiza Fashion factory in Leicester working inspite of the Leicester lockdown

Police presence in the centre of Leicester after the Health Secretary Matt Hancock imposed a local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases in the city

Police presence in the centre of Leicester following the Health Secretary Matt Hancock imposed an area lockdown carrying out a spike in coronavirus cases in the city

Following the report lots of textile factories were visited by seven different agencies, including Leicestershire Police, Leicestershire city council and Immigration enforcement.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told The Sun that he reckons there may be 10,000 ‘slaves’ employed in Leicester.

He said: ‘Covid-19 has had into focus what’s been going on.

‘It’ll take a Tory government to finish the despicable work methods and human exploitation in Leicester.’

One business proprietor running a shop in the North Evington area of Leicester has called for police to intervene in the situation. 

He told The Sun: ‘It’s crazy what is happening in these factories. These men and women are decent, hard-working people nevertheless they are risking their lives to produce clothes for big fashion brands right here in britain.

Some factories in Leicester pay staff as little as £4 an hour in order to turn a profit on cheap clothing supplied to online retailers including Boohoo. Pictured: A £5 party dress sold by Boohoo, advertised as ‘perfect for transitioning from day to play’

Some factories in Leicester pay staff as little as £4 an hour to be able to turn a profit on cheap clothing supplied to online retailers including Boohoo. Pictured: A £5 party dress sold by Boohoo, advertised as ‘perfect for transitioning from day to play’

‘It’s is wrong but no-one is doing any such thing to put an end to it. The police should go in to the factories and close them down.

‘What they truly are doing is slave labour, there is no other word for this. 

‘They are only getting £2.50 an hour and so they make so little money they have to live with 10 others in two or three-bedroom houses.’ 

A female machinist at a factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail a week ago and gave a chilling picture of life at these establishments.

The mother of three in her 50s, who we’ve decided not to name, said: ‘Three weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling well and there have been others who also had flu-like symptoms. But what can you do? We are not rich people and need money to survive.’

She also said they truly are not supplied with face masks or gloves from the factory. 

It comes as bosses at under-fire fashion company Boohoo a week ago appointed a premier lawyer to appear into allegations that factories involved in the making of its clothes were paying below minimum wage and breaching safety rules.

A female machinist at another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a chilling picture of life at these establishments

A female machinist at another factory, Faiza Fashion, spoke to the Mail this week and gave a chilling picture of life at these establishments

The fashion chiefs said that Alison Levitt, a QC, would be reviewing its supply chain in a bid to find out whether factories were meeting minimum wage and Covid-19 rules.

The board said it was ‘shocked and appalled’ by the allegations, that have been aired in the Sunday Times last weekend. 

While there he saw Boohoo and Nasty Gal branded clothes in boxes. Nasty Gal is owned by Boohoo.

It is not initially serious questions have been raised about the Leicester garment industry where Boohoo is a major customer.

Before the Sunday Times report, Channel 4, the Financial Times, the BBC and the Guardian had all highlighted the issue, since 2017.

Boohoo said it had found ‘some inaccuracies’ with the report last Sunday.

It said that the clothes had been produced in Morocco and were just being repackaged in Leicester at a premises formerly operated by Jaswal Fashions.

However Jaswal never been a supplier to the company, Boohoo said. The order was instead placed with Revolution Clothing, which outsourced the order to Morefray Limited.

Morefray made the clothes in Morocco and repackaged them in Leicester.

‘Our investigation up to now has not found evidence of suppliers paying workers £3.50 hourly,’ Boohoo said.

However it had found other areas where in fact the suppliers didn’t comply with Boohoo’s code of conduct, so cut them both off.

In 2018 the Financial Times reported that employers were certainly getting around minimum wage rules by maybe not paying workers for all the hours they devote.

Ms Levitt will now review how compliant suppliers are with minimum wage and Covid standards. She will even look into working hours and record keeping, as well as staff’s contracts.

In September, Boohoo will publish an update on her behalf review along side its half-year results, with a second update due in January next year.

When asked if the organization would agree to publishing the entire findings of Ms Levitt’s review, the organization said that it would be her decision, but added that Boohoo would welcome transparency.

Boohoo has also said that experts from Verisio and Bureau Veritas will audit its supply chain, and perform other work that the QC gives them.

Chief executive John Lyttle said: ‘As a board we are deeply shocked by the recent allegations in regards to the Leicester garment industry.

‘We desire to reiterate how seriously we’re taking these matters and we’ll not hesitate to terminate any relationships where non-compliance with our Code of Conduct is found.’

Boohoo’s share price was sent right into a tailspin this week despite a statement from the organization on Monday trying to fight the fire.

By Tuesday their shares were down with a third when compared with where that they had been on Friday.

It is bad news for their top bosses, who are set to share a £150 million bonus package if they can truly add two thirds to their share price in the next couple of years.

Analysts at Liberum, who had been sceptical over the company’s original response on Monday, said: ‘All these steps we commend and should begin to help re-build confidence that Boohoo intends to do the proper things.

‘They fully acknowledge that further investigations will be ongoing and have focused on their full co-operation with the Home Secretary and local authorities.

‘While serious questions will remain for quite a while, today could be the first positive step forward in transparency.’

However, shareholders seemed less impressed – Boohoo’s shares dropped still another 10% on Wednesday morning.  

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