'Fear of being called racist' stops police tackling sweatshops, Priti Patel believes

12 July 2020, 09:56

Priti Patel reportedly believes police do not tackle sweatshops over fears they will be called racist
Priti Patel reportedly believes police do not tackle sweatshops over fears they will be called racist. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Fears of being labelled racist stop police tackling illegal sweatshops, Home Secretary Priti Patel reportedly believes.

Ms Patel is understood to think that "cultural sensitivities" have left both the police and local councils with their hands tied when it comes to breaking up sweatshops in the UK's fast-fashion industry, The Sunday Times has reported.

The home secretary is believed to be considering introducing new legislation on modern slavery due to concerns over working conditions at some fashion suppliers.

She is said to have privately raised concerns that law enforcement agencies turned a "blind eye" to exploitation in some factories, such as Leicester's textile warehouses.

A source close to the Cabinet minister told the newspaper: "This scandal has been hiding in plain sight and there are concerns cultural sensitivities could be in part to blame for why these appalling working practices haven't been investigated."

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Boohoo's suppliers have been accused of paying workers less than half the national minimum wage
Boohoo's suppliers have been accused of paying workers less than half the national minimum wage. Picture: Getty

It comes after fashion firm Boohoo appointed a top lawyer to look into allegations that factories involved in the making of its clothes were paying below minimum wage and breaching safety rules.

The board said it was "shocked and appalled" by the allegations made in The Sunday Times last weekend, which were also directed at Nasty Gal - a fashion brand for young women.

Boohoo had more than £1 billion wiped from its share value in two days after the publication of the article,

It alleged that workers in a Leicester factory - the city in which a local lockdown is currently in place following a surge in coronavirus cases - making clothes destined for the company were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour while also being offered no protection against Covid-19.

One of its largest shareholders has since dumped its stock in the business, saying it had failed to address concerns about working conditions at the Leicester supplier.

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Boohoo statement on slavery investigation

Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) - which holds a 3.3 per cent stake in Boohoo, according to data provider Morningstar - criticised the firm's response to the allegations, branding them "inadequate in scope, timeliness and gravity."

Lesley Duncan, deputy head of UK equities at Aberdeen Standard Investments, SLA's fund management arm, said it had invested in Boohoo since its flotation in 2014 and had lobbied it on supply chain transparency for several years.

"While we would have liked progress to have been quicker we did feel that progress was being made," Ms Duncan said.

The undercover Sunday Times investigation saw the reporter recording himself packing clothes clearly labelled 'Nasty Gal'.

He was also approached by the factory foreman, who warned: "These motherf***ers know how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts.

"Take me for instance, I've been working for so many years in this industry, I've been here for five years but never could I take a proper pay packet. I'm still only on just over £5 an hour."