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Hancock has ‘quite significant concerns’ about Leicester clothing factories

UK News | Published:

The Health Secretary promised ‘very significant fines’ can be handed out if laws are broken,

The Health Secretary has said he has “quite significant concerns” about employment practices at clothing factories in Leicester amid reports one paid its staff less than the minimum wage.

Matt Hancock also told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme there had been coronavirus outbreaks at food and clothing producers in the city, as he stressed stopping the spread of coronavirus was “the number one problem”.

And he said “very significant fines” can be handed out, or businesses shut down, if employment laws and Government workplace safety guidance were found to have been breached.

He did not say if any fines had yet been levied but added: “We’re not just asking nicely, we are very clear to businesses that these are their responsibilities”.

Mr Hancock said: “Well we’ve seen outbreaks in food factories and in clothing factories. There are some quite significant concerns about some of the employment practices in some of the clothing factories in Leicester.

“They are important problems to deal with, but the number one problem that we’ve got to deal with is getting this virus under control.”

His comments come after the Sunday Times reported allegations that workers in Leicester’s Jaswal Fashions factory making clothes for Boohoo brand Nasty Gal were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour and operating without social distancing measures in place.

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The findings have prompted an investigation by the National Crime Agency, with the allegations labelled “appalling” by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Ms Patel also said: “I will not tolerate sick criminals forcing innocent people into slave labour and a life of exploitation.

“Let this be a warning to those who are exploiting people in sweatshops like these for their own commercial gain.

“This is just the start. What you are doing is illegal, it will not be tolerated and we are coming after you.”

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The NCA said in a statement: “Within the last few days NCA officers, along with Leicestershire Police and other partner agencies, attended a number of business premises in Leicester area to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking.”

Covid-19 cases in Leicester June 11-25
(PA Graphics)

It said: “Nasty Gal does not allow any of its suppliers to pay less than the minimum wage and has a zero-tolerance approach to incidences of modern slavery.

“We have terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of noncompliance with our strict code of conduct is found.

“We will take immediate steps to fully investigate the allegations raised and if the allegations are substantiated we will ensure that our suppliers immediately cease working with Jaswal Fashions.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it is working alongside other authorities to regulate health and safety, and is “actively investigating three textile businesses and enforcement action is being taken at one of these sites” in Leicester.

A spokesperson said: “Multi-agency activity in Leicester further focused on the textile industry; we engaged with 11 businesses in total, 10 of those were site inspections.

“No notices were served and no businesses were shut down, however verbal advice was given to all of them and further enquires are being made with a number of the businesses to ensure compliance with safer workplaces guidance.”

Leicestershire Police also said they had carried out routine visits at nine workplaces in the city to ensure health and safety.

No closure orders were issued and no enforcement was used, the force said.

Detective Inspector Jenni Heggs added: “We are aware of recent reports in the media of factories in Leicester continuing their operational work despite being in a period of lockdown.

“We have been working with partners sharing information to carry out these visits which we will continue to do going forward.”

Leicester and parts of the surrounding area have been placed back into a local lockdown following a spike of Covid-19 cases.

Restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs in the city must remain closed, but can be open for takeaways.

People are also banned from staying overnight at another household, and those in the restricted area can no longer visit people in private gardens or indoors, and could face fines if they flout rules.

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