University of Leicester
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New industry on a skewed playing field: supply chain relations and working conditions in UK garment manufacturing. Focus area - Leicester and the East Midlands

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posted on 2015-02-19, 12:18 authored by Nikolaus Hammer, Réka Plugor, Peter Nolan, Ian Clark
The UK apparel manufacturing industry, after significant decline, has experienced renewed growth in recent years as many retailers and brands have commenced or increased sourcing from local suppliers. This presents significant opportunities for regional economies as it can offer local garment manufacturers entry points into global value chains as well as employment opportunities for their community. At the same time, as this industry revives, anecdotal evidence has emerged about considerable risks in the form of violations of work and employment regulations. Recent media reports have highlighted serious labour rights issues and other concerns such as unauthorised subcontracting within UK apparel manufacturing. Particular concerns have been raised about working conditions in the garment manufacturing hub of Leicester and its surrounding areas, relating to both registered factories and smaller unregulated production units. Alleged workers’ rights issues included excessive working hours, poor health and safety conditions in the workplace and night shift subcontracting, among others. It was also thought that some registered factories may be subcontracting to unregistered units to meet high volume and short turnaround order commitments within tight cost constraints. These concerns came to the attention of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a UK-based alliance of lead firms, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. ETI members include many well-known UK fashion brands and retailers, for whom Leicester represents a sourcing destination for some product lines. Poor working conditions often result from a wide range of political, social and economic factors. ETI’s work is grounded in the belief that to truly bring about sustainable change to workers’ lives, the root causes of labour rights issues need to be identified, understood and tackled collaboratively. ETI identified the need for substantive research to better understand supply chain relationships and working conditions within the UK garment sector, with a focus on Leicester, before deciding on what action to take. The University of Leicester’s Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures was commissioned to lead a research study, due to its focus on industrial relations and labour rights and strong connections with local stakeholders. Dr Nik Hammer and his research team brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the project, and worked closely with a wide spectrum of stakeholders through the research process. The following report represents the outcome of this commission. (Preface)



Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, 2015.


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