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Sir Peter Soulsby teams up with TUC to demand a better deal for Leicester garment workers

The elected mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, and the Regional Secretary of TUC Midlands, Lee Barron, have today written to a number of major UK fashion retailers, including Boohoo, ASOS, TK Maxx, Missguided, River Island, Next and New Look regarding poor health and safety and employment practices amongst garment manufacturers, many of whom are based in Leicester.

In this open letter, the Mayor and the TUC warn that many companies cannot ‘demonstrate that your products were not produced by exploited workers operating in dangerous conditions or worse by victims of modern slavery’. 

In order to find a solution, Sir Peter will be hosting a round table summit with retailers and unions and is encouraging all employers to sign a TUC agreement committing these retailers to procure from manufacturers who recognise and work with trade unions.

Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, said:

“This is not a new problem but it has been once again highlighted by recent revelations about minimum wage violations and suggestions that working conditions in the industry may have been a catalyst for the spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

“We have been working for some time to tackle this challenge but it isn’t something the local authority can solve alone, nor is it Leicester’s problem alone.

“That is why I am trying to bring together the retailers and the trade unions to get the action we need to resolve this issue. I am calling on all of the retailers we have written to today to show their commitment by joining us at the round table summit and to sign up to the TUC agreement which, if implemented, would give greater employment protection and security to thousands of people in the city.”

Deputy city mayor Cllr Adam Clarke added:

“We have a proud textiles heritage in Leicester and some great manufacturers producing high quality garments. I believe that Leicester should be the engine of this resurgent UK garment industry and that this could contribute positively to our local economy - but only if ethical concerns are addressed and garment workers are treated with the respect they deserve.”


Lee Barron, TUC Midlands Regional Secretary, said:

“Some retailers have tried to put systems in place to demonstrate that they procure ethically but too many garments, manufactured by people working in terrible conditions and for poverty wages, continue to get into their supply chains.

“There is only one way that these large fashion retailers can be sure that health and safety and other good employment practices are being adhered to in their supply chains and that is by insisting that they will only procure from manufacturers who recognise a trade union.

“Trade unions will not only help and support their members but they can be a free and effective solution for an industry plagued by unethical employment practices. If retailers are serious about resolving this issue then we will gladly work with them to transform the industry and improve working conditions in factories in Leicester once and for all.”

Editors note

Open letter to the following recipients:

  • Ian Grabiner, CEO Arcadia Group
  • Nick Beighton, CEO ASOS
  • John Lyttle, CEO Boohoo
  • Ernie Herrman, CEO TK Maxx
  • Nitin Passi, CEO Missguided
  • Nigel Oddy, CEO New Look
  • Simon Wolfson CEO, Next
  • Will Kernan, CEO, River Island
  • Taraq Ramzan, Quiz Clothing


Text of letter


We are writing to you following recent media revelations relating to employee terms and conditions in the Leicester garment trade and following speculation that working conditions in local factories could have been a catalyst for the spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

We have had concerns about the industry for a number of years and a considerable amount of effort has gone into resolving these problems but we now believe that only increased momentum in the joint approach from the local authority, trade unions and retailers can be a key contributor to tackling this issue .

With import tariffs on items of clothing likely by the end of the year, it is perhaps more important than ever that we have a thriving UK garment trade and Leicester could be the engine of this resurgent industry.

However, ethical concerns will hold back such a revival if companies such as yours struggle to demonstrate that your products were not produced by exploited workers operating in dangerous conditions - or worse, by victims of modern slavery. 

We are aware that efforts have been made to implement auditing systems to ensure that factories are complying with basic requirements of employment law, but these have clearly not been successfully implemented universally and too many people remain employed across Leicester with sub-standard terms and conditions.

Trade unions represent workers in all areas of UK manufacturing and work to ensure companies comply with standards on health and safety and that employees are being treated fairly, for example by ensuring that they are receiving the minimum wage, along with sick pay and holiday entitlements.

It is therefore our strong recommendation that fashion retailers, such as your company, agree to only procure from manufacturers who recognise a trade union.

We realise that this will take time to implement, but we would be keen to work in partnership with you during a transition period to ensure every supplier to any of the large UK fashion retailers recognises a trade union. This will be a huge step towards an end to the unethical practices which dog the industry and will give you and your customers the confidence that clothing made in Leicester was not made by exploiting vulnerable people. Furthermore, this can be achieved without the cost or inconsistencies of undertaking sporadic inspections.

To take this forward we are co-convening a summit meeting on 29th September at City Hall, Leicester, inviting you and representatives of other major UK fashion retailers - along with the representatives of trade unions who represent garment workers - to sign up to the following agreement:

Here the undersigned commit to an agreed way in which our procurement procedures will be amended to help to ensure that all our products are ethically manufactured. We commit to only procure garments from UK manufacturers who:

  • Agree to recognise a trade union and allow site access to representatives of the union to recruit, support and represent members.
  • Provide appropriate training and facility time to elected trade union representatives and health and safety representatives so they can properly advise on matters of health and safety and employment law.
  • Engage with trade union representatives to ensure that work is being carried out by the unionised workforce and is not being subcontracted out to a third party without union recognition.

To ensure manufacturers are adhering to these conditions and retailers can be confident that they are using appropriate suppliers, the TUC will liaise with the relevant unions, collect information and regularly circulate a list of compliant companies.

We look forward to hearing from you and hope you or a suitable representative will be able to join us at the aforementioned meeting which we hope to follow up with a media event to celebrate your commitment to working with us to resolving this crisis in your supply chain.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Barron                                                                               Sir Peter Soulsby

Regional Secretary, TUC Midlands                                      Elected Mayor of Leicester

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