I very rarely have cause to despair but right now I am angry. One of the primary reasons is that I am learning of an increasing number of cases of employers abusing the furlough scheme. Some taking the payments BUT not paying their staff; others paying the money over only when the employee(s) agree to work for it. Some studies suggest that as many as 34 per cent of employers have acted in a deliberately fraudulent manner to access money from the public purse.
I am also horrified to learn that sweatshops have been allowed to operate right under the noses of the local authorities in Leicester and that no one has taken action to bring them up to the standards required of workplaces, or to close them down. We’re not talking about the odd one or two businesses here but hundreds taking advantage of workers who either don’t know their rights or feel unable to speak up. There is justifiable comparison with the appalling conditions in which workers in third world countries toil for a pittance and which campaigners protest about. The shock is that it is all being replicated right here in the UK and ignored.
It is hard to imagine that people are being paid as little as £3.50 an hour to work in the garment industry in our country. It is harder still to understand how cowboy operators can get away with it. You can bet these businesses pay no employers’ NIC and that, like as not, keep highly dubious accounting records, if any. The chances are that the individuals coining it pay no tax on their own incomes, let alone provide contracts of employment or pay slips. It is being suggested that some of the workers may have overstayed their visa terms and will do anything to remain in this country, even if that means becoming slaves. Others do not speak or understand English and seemingly know little of the world outside of their own small communities.
If retailers were as diligent as they lay claim to be in policing their supply chains, then the sweatshops would not be doing such a roaring trade. We have to face the fact that certain retailers must be turning a blind eye to what is going on, in order to keep buying at cut-throat prices. It is common knowledge throughout the garment trade, that the sweatshops have been open for business throughout lockdown and continue to trade. No doubt some operators will now disappear without trace in fear of the government investigations which have been promised in the light of the recent revelations, but they are sure to re-emerge unless retailers are more discerning about the suppliers they conduct business with, and the subcontractors that those suppliers rely on. Frankly if any retailers are dependent on sweatshop labour to subsidise their businesses, I’d rather not shop with them and nor, I think, would many people.
Editor – Direct Commerce Magazine