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by Bethany Rielly
LABOUR MP Claudia Webbe has called on ministers to end “the scourge of exploitation” in Britain’s garment industry after official figures reveal high Covid-19 fatality rates among women in the sector.
Women sewing machinists are almost four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the average woman worker, according to Office for National Statistics figures.
The Leicester East MP said the figures were a “stark reminder of working conditions in Britain’s garment industry — both during and before the pandemic,” a problem particularly prevalent in her city.
Last year, it was revealed that workers in garment factories in Leicester, largely supplying clothes to fast-fashion brand Boohoo, were forced to continue going in during the pandemic.
Staff reported that no social-distancing measures were put in place and they were paid less than minimum wage. The continued operation of the factories were widely believed to have contributed to high levels of Covid-19 infections in the city.
“We cannot allow companies to get away with this predatory business model, in which corporate profits are prioritised above human rights and wellbeing,” Ms Webbe said.
In a letter to PM Boris Johnson, the MP calls for trade unions to be granted access to factories and workforces. Boohoo has repeatedly refused to engage with shopworkers’ union Usdaw.
TUC Midlands regional secretary Lee Barron also called for law changes in response to the figures.
“The government must use its much-delayed Employment Bill to make firms liable for abuses in their supply chains,” he said.
Ms Webbe added: “It must finally act to end the scourge of exploitation in Leicester, across the UK and around the world.”
Labour Behind the Label’s Dominique Muller said: “The failings of the government approach to labour enforcement and health and safety alongside the failure of brands taking responsibility for the workers has led to a perfect storm of exploitative and dangerous working conditions.”
The campaign group, which first drew attention to the shocking ONS figures, said that brands, unions and government agencies must now work together “to create a binding set of obligations to protect those most vulnerable.”
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