Police Ignored Slave Labour in Leicester Sweatshops, Feared Accusations Of Racism
In a scenario resembling the inaction of the authorities in the face of blatantly illegal activities by the notorious grooming gangs that targeted and sexually exploited vulnerable and under — age girls, a newly published report has revealed British police and government agencies have ignored the existence of ‘sweatshops’ full of mostly South Asian heritage workers in the British fashion industry over fears that they would be called racist. Home Secretary Priti Patel has suggested that “cultural sensitivities” led police and other employment authorities to ignore the exploitation of illegal workers in textile factories and warehouses in Leicester, for the same reasons as police and social services departments overlooked grooming gang rapists operating in cities around Britain. Rotherham and Rochdale are the most publicised cases but the activities of grooming gangs have been exposed in many other towns and cities including the genteel university city of Oxford..
The report published last week contains the results from a police investigation carried out by The National Crime Agency found that workers in a Leicester CMT (cut, make and trim) contrator for the British fashion company Boohoo were being paid less than the national minimum wage for adults over 25 of £8.72 an hour. Some workers , who having entered the country illegally and so were reluctant to complain for fear of being reported to the immigration agency by their bosses were earning as little as £3.50 an hour.
The report has prompted the Home Secretary to consider drafting new legislation on modern slavery, as she believes the current set of laws are “not fit for purpose”. Ms. Patel is right, the laws were written and enacted long before relaxation of border controls under the Labour government (1997 to 2010) allowed a massive influx of undocumented workers. These people now live outside the tax and National Insurance systems and cannot claim state benefits so they are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers who are often not factory owners but contract labour agencies.
“This scandal has been hiding in plain sight and there are concerns cultural sensibilities could be in part to blame for why these appalling working practices haven’t been properly investigated,” a source close to Ms Patel told The Times newspaper.
The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has also launched an investigation into the matter, which could result in the government taking control of Leicester’s city council and appointing a team to run the city’s business, in the way his predecessor in the post, Eric Pickles, did for Rotherham when the grooming gang scandal erupted a few years ago. Like Rotherham and its grooming gang scandal, Leicester city council has been accused of gross negligence in its failure to address slave labour in the fashion industry. A source in Leicester City Hall, who does not want to be named for obvious reasons, revealed that the council members and officer were more concerned that the council might be labelled racist than they were about the plight of the migrant workers who were being exploited by criminal bosses.
It is worth noting that the agencies supplying low skilled labour exploit a little known European Union law which demands that all workers be paid the legal minimum wage, not the minimum for the country where the work is done but the legal minimum for the country where the agency employing the workers is registered. Most of the agencies are registered in Bucharest, Romania, Sofia, Bulgaria or other low waged EU member stated. In Britain the minimum wage for a full 35 hour week is £305. In Romania, for a longer week the legal minimum wage is £55. Thus the agencies can show authorities in the tax jurisdiction they are complying with EU law.
The police contact for Leicester’s Sikh community, Raj Mann said: “The local authorities have known these sweatshops exist for decades but they’ve been loath to do anything about it for fear of being accused of picking on immigrant or refugee communities, as a lot of the exploited workers are of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi background.
“Within the Asian community people generally turn a blind eye to workers in the community who are on less than the minimum wage. They see it as being better than earning nothing at all,” he said, adding that factory owners in the city often share intelligence about “cheap workers” as well as information on upcoming police raids or inspections by the health and Safety Agency or Department of Work and Pensions.
The problem of modern slavery has been a concern for decades in the Leicester clothing manufacture industry, a 2015 study from the University of Leicester reported that the practice of paying workers below the minimum wage to be “endemic” in the city. One of the reasons it goes on is that illegal immigrants have no alternative than to work on binding contracts in jobs that pay less than the legal minimum wage and do not provide the benefits such as sick pay and paid holidays which are prescribed in UK employment laws.