Safety alert on Britain's unseen sweatshops
Union, safety and anti-poverty campaigners are urging the government to stamp out sweatshop labour in Britain. The call comes after an undercover investigation by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme revealed the conditions suffered by workers employed in factories in Leicester making goods for high street retail giants. A reporter worked undercover for three months in workshops in the city, stitching garments destined for British retail chains including BHS, New Look, Peacocks, C&A and Jane Norman. She found 'dangerous, pressurised sweatshop conditions,' pay at half the legal minimum wage, and staff forced to work faster under threat of the sack and in cramped, overheated conditions with poor hygiene standards. The undercover reporter received no training or safety guidance, and sewing machines were not equipped with appropriate safety guards. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'It is a scandal that people are working in these dangerous, pressurised sweatshop conditions. Workers in the UK have a legal right to be paid at least the minimum wage, and are entitled to carry out their jobs in decent and safe workplaces with clean, modern lavatories.' He warned: 'The deep cuts in spending announced by the government will make it easier for employers to avoid their obligations under the law to protect their staff at work. The Health and Safety Executive has just seen its funding cut by 35 per cent and that - combined with a 28 per cent cut in local government funding - will have a very damaging impact on safety in UK workplaces.' Richard Jones, policy director with safety professionals' organisation IOSH, said the programme 'highlighted that small business does not necessarily equate to a safe or low-risk business. The documentary claimed workers shown were exposed to significant risk from machinery and fire hazards.' He added: 'It's disturbing if these standards are being allowed to pass under the radar of enforcement inspections.' War on Want executive director John Hilary said: 'High street retailers cannot be trusted to clean up their own act. We need government action to end this scandal.'
Issued: 12 November, 2010