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Undercover: Britain's Cheap Clothes: Channel 4 Dispatches

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In 2010 reporter Tazeen Ahmad exposed poor conditions in clothes factories located in Leicester, the heart of Britain. Dispatches has returned to the city and discovered workers being paid less than half the national living wage and working conditions that pose a serious fire risk.

Secret cameras capture one textile boss revealing that he considers he’s in direct competition with Bangladesh to meet the orders.

We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh. They can get it cheap there. How will they get it made cheaper here? If we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss.

Undercover worker reporter filmed inside Fashion Square Ltd, worked on clothes for River Island:

A Dispatches undercover reporter, Belal, gets a job in Fashion Square Ltd to report on the conditions inside the factory. As a new recruit he is put to work at the end of the production line, Belal’s job is to stick bar codes and labels on clothes – labels for River Island.

River Island’s most recent published accounts, 2014, show they made an operating profit of £144million.

After two days working in the factory Belal has still not been told how much he will get paid, or when.

Belal should be paid at least the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour

Finally, Belal goes to the man who hired him to talk about pay.

Boss: How much do you get paid in London?

Belal: It depends where you’re working.

Boss: That’s why I’ve asked to see you. You won’t get paid as much as that for the work you’re doing here.

Belal: I spoke to, and he said he’ll let me know how much he’ll pay me after he’s seen my work.

Boss: Yes, yes. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. What were you paid in London?

Belal: I got at least £7.20.

Boss: You won’t get that here. That’s what I’m telling you. We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh.They can get it cheap there. How will they get it made cheaper here? If we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss.

Belal: You are comparing it with Bangladesh and places like that?

Boss: Yes, yes, yes. This is the situation.

Belal leaves with a £110 for a week - which works out at £3 for packing and pressing these River Island dresses. That’s £4.20 below the National Living Wage of £7.20

Fashion Square Ltd:

At the time of writing this press release we have not received a statement for broadcast from Fashion Square Ltd. But in correspondence they denied anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage.

Like many High Street shops River Island is signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative, and has pledged that all workers in its supply chain should be paid a living wage.

On its website, it says “we work actively with our suppliers …. in safeguarding and improving the rights and working conditions of workers in those factories which supply our products.”

In response to our findings River Island told us that Fashion Square was removed from their Approved Factory List in February 2016, following 2 failed … audits.

They added: “Suppliers were informed not to use this factory for any further … orders … Sub-contracting without river Island’s approval is a serious breach of our Terms and Conditions.”

Undercover reporter in factory associated to New Look:

Back in 2010 Dispatches filmed undercover in a Leicester factory where workers were being paid £2 an hour. They were making clothes for High Street fashion chain New Look. At the time New Look told Dispatches that the factory had been subcontracted without their approval, and that they didn’t know about conditions there. New Look also said all its suppliers were required to pay workers a living wage.

In November 2016, Belal has a new job in a factory right in the heart of the textile district, the company sign has been painted over– but the man who hires Belal doesn’t check Belal has the necessary documents to work legally in the UK.

Belal works producing yellow jumpers destined for high street chain New Look, which retail at £19.99.

Belal is told by another worker that the pay is £3 an hour, despite there being a poster on the wall about the national minimum rates for 2014/15. His pay is later confirmed at £3.50 per hour, less than half the legal minimum.

While our reporter isn’t told the name of the factory where he is working for,he does find paperwork from New Look about the jumpers. It’s an order form from New Look and it’s addressed to a company called TS Knitwear (UK) Ltd, which is registered to another address in Leicester.

It seems TS Knitwear has subcontracted work to the factory.

On its website New Look says it protects workers in its supply chain and promotes its ethical work in Bangladesh.

In recent years New Look has been keen to show its commitment to ethical trading with films about the great conditions and happiness of its workers in Bangladesh.

New Look responded by saying:

"Following an audit ……….last summer, we made it clear to…….. TS Knitwear, that the factory in question did not meet our ……. ethical standards and ……should not be used

…….. Since then………

TS Knitwear has subcontracted …. orders to this factory without our knowledge or consent….

"….we have terminated our relationship with TS Knitwear with immediate effect .. and will be working closely with the business to support all its workers who will be affected."

TS Knitwear said it has“clear ethical guidelines” and that due to “an unusually large volume” of orders they outsourced some production. They were “dismayed” to learn about our investigation and said that as “it is very difficult to police outsourced work” they will now only manufacture in-house.

Undercover reporter inside United Creations Ltd, making clothes for BooHoo and Missguided:

In the last 4 years there has been a huge boom in online retail, BooHoo’s operating profit in that time period has increased from £260,000 to £15.3million. Nitin Passi, who launched Missguided in 2008, is reported to have a net worth of £65million.

At United Creations Belal is paid to package a BooHoo jacket and mark up zips on dresses for Missguided. Belal is paid £3.25 per hour for his work.

Textile factories filled with flammable materials and hot machinery are vulnerable to fire. Between 2013 and 2014 there were 5,500 fires in retail distribution and industrial premises in the UK. Belal is concerned about fire risks at United Creations Ltd, there is rubbish piled on the factory floor and the fire exits are blocked.

Professor Richard Booth, a health and safety expert, who has 40 years experience and has given evidence in high profile court cases, watched our footage and said he had concerns about what would happen in the event of a fire: “What people don’t appreciate is that fires happen very very rapidly, there’s a smoke build up, there’s a low ceiling, the people are partly panicking and the doors open the wrong way anyway.”

However, the thing which shocks Professor Booth the most is that the factory worker is smoking on the factory floor.

Professor Booth, “That was the most remarkable sight on the video, I mean an absolute disgrace and he was walking around dropping ash in the main area where all the fabrics were being retained.”

United Creations LTD

At the time of writing this press release we are still waiting for a formal statement from United Creations Ltd but in correspondence they denied anyone at the factory was paid below the legal wage. They also pointed out that an independent Fire Risk Assessment was carried out at the factory in June 2016.

Boohoo told us

“they have a demanding set of …policies [for] all suppliers “and will now do “regular unannounced audits”….

They told us they “ were …unaware that United Creations was carrying out work [for an approved supplier] [and] that [they] “visited United Creations as soon as Dispatches alerted us…to assist them in…[raising]..the standard of their safety procedures and ensuring that they pay at least the minimum wage.”

Missguided told us

“We take the allegations … very seriously and demand the highest standards of safety, working conditions and pay from all of our suppliers and subcontractors. We are committed to achieving the standards set by the Ethical Trading Initiative and conduct regular audits and spot-checks of our supply chain.

We have begun an internal investigation … we will also ensure these matters are addressed urgently by the supplier in the best interests of the workers.”

Undercover: Britain’s Cheap Clothes: Channel 4 Dispatches Mon 23rd Jan, Channel 4, 8pm

Reporter: Tazeen Ahmad

Producer/Director: Kristin Hadland

Executive Producer: Karen Edwards

Production Company: Blakeway

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