Why paying a living wage is everyone's responsibility
As we come up to the one year anniversary of Lowie being a Living Wage Employer, it comes at a time when many questions are being asked about underpaid garment workers in Leicester. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you will have found it hard to miss the reports (again!) about underpaid and overworked garment workers in Leicester, linked to some of our cheapest online retailers, namely Boohoo.
Cheap clothes are like cheap flights – better to have less of both really. Some people might say that it’s undemocratic to those of a lower income to expect them to pay any more for clothing but considering that we have charity shops on most high streets with perfect, almost new clothing, and most of our friends and neighbours have a surplus, I don’t imagine that anyone in this country has issues with finding things to wear. The real issue is the ‘more is more’ philosophy that has been plaguing our rich societies and damaging our precious planet and the institutions that keep this going.
In today’s Guardian article by Emily Kenway outlines how it's 'impossible for migrant workers with irregular status to feel safe to report abuse. They’re forced to choose between staying in exploitative situations or risking detention and deportation if they report harm'. These vulnerable people fear retribution from their employers that by speaking up they may lose their job.
Certainly, the government has a lot to answer in terms of regulation and prosecution for these modern acts of slave labour. Under the immigration act an employer cannot be charged unless he has ‘reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment’. I beg to ask the question, if the workers are being paid £3.50 an hour in Leicester sweatshops then surely the employer knows that his worker is illegally working.
There is no government provision for these people to live and so those being paid £3.50 an hour are forces workers to live in overcrowded households, often with multiple multi-generational families where the risk of Covid spread is high.
We cannot just blame the government and factory owners. I’m all for getting product made locally to support the UK economy, promote skills and lower carbon emissions. What I can’t understand is how can Boohoo, or any of the other companies selling cheap clothes made within the UK, honestly believe that garments can be made legally for that price? It beggars belief that company employees could imagine that a dress that sells for under £10 would have enough profit margin not just for the Boohoos of this world but for the fabric maker, the trims provider, the transporter, the factory owner, all the other parties involved AND the garment worker. As a maker of fine quality, responsibly made clothes for the past 18 years, I’m aware of the costs and just can’t see how this can be done, even at scale.
Lets finally applaud latent shareholders who are selling up and realising that they have a responsibility NOT to invest in companies that operate in these environs. Let's hope they steer clear for the long run and also question other investments in their portfolio and hold them equally accountable.
Since you're reading this post I'm probably preaching to the converted but I think we all have a responsibility to educate those around us on the costs and benefits of cheap clothes. Where there is a cheap garment, a person or the planet is paying the price. Lowie was recently recognised as a Finalist for Brand of the Year in the coveted Drapers Sustainability Awards.
If you want to find out more, here's Lowie's Sustainability Achievements and Objectives and more about what we're doing to be a responsible clothing provider