Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 28, July 25, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Conditions Still Fuelling the Covid-19 Pandemic

Vested interests and their disregard of the health and safety of many workers, often low-paid women and minority workers, is fuelling the infection and deaths of many from Covid-19. This is not to mention the major scandal of deaths in care homes, where the government has contemptibly attempted to shift the blame onto the care home workers themselves.

On the conditions of textile workers in Leicester, where the city has had lockdown re-imposed, the TUC said: "The terrible way that workers in Boohoo's supply chain have been treated has once again exposed the huge gaps in the law that allow big companies to wash their hands of responsibility for the behaviour of their subcontractors." [1]

The TUC estimates that several million workers cannot enforce their basic rights with the companies for which they are ultimately working. [2]

It is clear that the lockdown in Leicester, with the spike of Covid-19 infections, is an example of a wider scourge. Conditions in such workplaces as food processing, abattoirs, and others, where social distancing has not been observed, have contributed to the growth in infections. Whatever the reason, spikes have also occurred in cities such as Luton and Blackburn also, which have been declared "areas of intervention", along with Leicester.

In the Leicester context, it is evident that the extra exploitation of minority workers has made the city a hotspot of the pandemic. It is reported that workers are paid as little as £4 an hour, totally unaffected by the minimum wage. And garment factories in Birmingham, Manchester, London and elsewhere are also known to exhibit sweatshop conditions.

Workers in sectors such as furniture, construction, contract cleaning, recycling and domestic work are also being paid less than the minimum wage and experience wage theft, unsafe working conditions, verbal and physical abuse, and unpaid overtime.

"Exactly the same labour abuses that the government and brands are professing shock and horror over in Leicester are happening at scale across the country," said Emily Kenway, a senior adviser at Focus on Labour Exploitation (Flex), as reported in The Guardian. "It's not just garments. In the construction sector in London we found a huge amount of abuse, underpayment of wages, verbal and physical intimidation. We know migrant cleaners are having their rights abused. The list goes on. It is not acceptable that action is only taken when the most extreme cases come to light. Basic labour laws are simply not being upheld across the country and that is corrosive and wrong."

Workers and their unions must take up this situation as a problem for solution, demanding that the dignity of labour be recognised and the rights of all workers be upheld.

Notes

1. Boohoo Group plc is a UK-based online fashion retailer. The business was founded in 2006, and had sales in 2019 of £856.9m. More than half of Boohoo's garments are produced in the UK, especially Leicester, London, and Manchester. Boohoo buys 75%-80% of the clothing produced in Leicester. This was made possible when other retailers such as ASOS and Missguided reduced the amount they sourced from Leicester over concerns about working conditions. [Source Wikipedia]

2. The July 9 issue of "Risks", a TUC bulletin of union health and safety news, carried the following paragraph:

Boohoo to investigate suppliers over exploitation claims
The online fashion retailer Boohoo is launching an independent review of its UK supply chain after allegations that some factories in Leicester that sell clothes to Boohoo paid workers below the minimum wage and failed to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak. The company had more than £1bn wiped off its value on July 6 as it pledged to investigate renewed claims that staff making its products in the city were being exploited and put in danger. Boohoo was already under fire after Labour Behind the Label, a workers' rights group, claimed that some employees at factories in Leicester that supply the fast fashion firm were "being forced to come into work while sick with Covid-19", charges the company denied. The union Usdaw has also criticised the company for leaving workers at its Burnley warehouse without PPE or sufficient social distancing (Risks 944). The TUC said last month that Boohoo was one of eight major companies that was not publishing online its Covid-19 risk ass essments (Risks 952). Boohoo, which owns brands including Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, said the review would be led by Alison Levitt QC, the former head of Mishcon de Reya's white collar crime unit, and said it would initially invest £10m towards "eradicating malpractice" in its supply chain.


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