Undocumented migrants face exploitation within fast fashion industry
Throughout the course of Covid-19, one industry facing renewed scrutiny is fast-fashion. This is not its first time under an unforgiving spotlight.
Fast fashion is largely considered a ticking time bomb due to its devastating impacts on both the environment and human wellbeing. In recent years, it has become widely known that fast-fashion supply chains are riddled with exploitation. Now, due to the nationwide lockdown imposed in late March, the industry is struggling to contain its harrowing secret.
Investigation into modern slavery within UK supply chain
A Sunday Times investigation revealed the dire working conditions of garment workers within a Leicester-based supply chain, shattering the illusion that such exploitation does not occur in developed countries.
Undercover journalist Vidhathri Matety posed as a factory worker and was informed by his employer that he would earn just £3.50 per hour – a far cry from the UK’s national living wage of £8.72 for those aged 25 and above.
Matety described the ‘sweatshop conditions’ he endured within the factory and the ‘back-breaking work’ it involved. This included hauling boxes of clothes bearing high street fashion labels such as Boohoo and Nasty Gal – two of the UK’s leading online fashion retailers.
Regrettably, this has been a reality for quite some time. Leicester may be renowned for its booming garment industry yet it is the subject of scathing criticism and allegations of modern slavery. A 2015 report carried out by the University of Leicester examined the working conditions of garment workers, pointing to overwhelming evidence of exploitation.
Undercover journalist Vidhathri Matety posed as a factory worker and was informed by his employer that he would earn just £3.50 per hour
The report found that those most vulnerable to exploitative labour within the garment industry are women of colour and undocumented migrants. It highlighted that those especially susceptible are workers who do not have strong English language skills and who do not have sufficient knowledge of their employment rights.
Why are undocumented migrants vulnerable to exploitation in the fast-fashion industry?
Describing a hierarchy present within supply chains, the report found that undocumented migrants are most likely to face non- or under-payment of wages, hold no employment contract, receive no holiday pay, work irregular hours and suffer harassment or abuse at work.
Those most vulnerable to exploitative labour within the garment industry are women of colour and undocumented migrants
Inevitably, the hostile environment policy embedded within the UK’s immigration system plays a significant part in this with some suggesting that it in fact facilitates such exploitation. Undocumented migrants fearing deportation or detention are an easy target as they are less likely to report exploitation due to a deeply ingrained fear of authorities.
Undocumented migrants who work in the garment industry can receive as little as £1 per hour. Many feel trapped as they recognise their inability to secure work elsewhere.
To truly tackle this, the Home Secretary must address the UK’s hostile immigration policy and its role in pushing vulnerable migrants into exploitative labour. If this vicious cycle is to be broken, the government must take accountability. Simply promising a toughening of regulation and penalties for those implicated is not enough.