Fast-fashion manufacturers across Leicester have been hit by a second damning investigation this week, revealing illegally low wages, intimidation and a lack of any accountability for previous offences.
Earlier this week an investigation from anti-slavery charity Hope of Justice, reported by Sky News, revealed that workers in Boohoo approved factories continued to be paid below minimum wage one year after the scandal broke.
Now a second investigation conducted by The I has revealed that home secretary Priti Patel’s ‘Operation Tacit’, which she promised would tackle the “scourge” of Leicester’s textile sector, has led to no prosecutions and little change in the industry a year later.
The I’s investigation also revealed that factory workers continued to facilitate benefit fraud and tax evasion, while threatening and intimidating machinists, suppliers and auditors to not speak out about their practices.
Since the task force Operation Tactic was launched last year and Boohoo ramped up audits of suppliers throughout the city, factory bosses have created a WhatsApp group called “Leicester Manufacturing”.
According to The I, factories use this group to warn each other of auditors or immigration officers making visits, while giving advice about how to deal with audits.
“Everybody informs everybody,” one source said.
“They’ll say they’ve seen GLAA at this factory or outside that factory, or they’ve seen an auditor or a reporter… Some of them would lock their doors. Some of them would send their workers out, saying: ‘You go home, come back tomorrow.’”
Other factory workers speaking to the publication said it was “common” for factory workers to be paid below minimum wage, “pay no tax, take cash” and top up their wages with benefits, effectively committing benefit fraud.
Factory bosses have also been accused of violent intimidation of staff, with one source saying that after she challenged her boss, “he threatened me in the middle of the floor, saying: I’ll beat you here. I had to run out of the factory. I went to police and I got a restraining order against him”.
Auditors themselves are also threatened openly in factories, according to the report, with one stating “My name doesn’t come out or I’ll get killed”.
Responding to a similar investigation published earlier this week by Sky News, Boohoo said: “Boohoo is committed to the highest standards of ethical compliance within its supply chain. Suppliers are wholly expected to adhere to these standards, and any concerns such as those raised by Sky News are immediately investigated.
“Since last year’s independent review, the group has repeatedly stated its determination in rebuilding a garment industry in Leicester with a robust, fair and transparent supply chain.”