Leicester has the second highest concentration of textile manufacturing in the UK

Leicester has the second highest concentration of textile manufacturing in the UK

The UK city of Leicester, which is at the centre of much of the country's textile and garment reshoring efforts, is looking to clean up its image with plans to develop a skilled and ethical industry to attract more investment from fashion brands wanting to source locally.

Around 40 representatives from national regulatory and enforcement agencies will meet in Leicester on Friday (6 October) to pilot ways to develop the industry in the city, and potentially emulate this across the UK.

The Leicester and Leicestershire region has the second highest concentration of textile manufacturing in the UK, with 1,500 businesses employing around 10,000 people. The sector is worth more than GBP500m (US$658.7m) to the local economy and 88% of businesses in the area predict growth in the next three years.

"Leicester has a long and proud history of textile manufacturing and we want to ensure it plays an important role in our future," says Leicester City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, who is hosting the event. "Many retailers now want to source more garments from the UK, and this gives Leicester a great opportunity given the concentration and breadth of textiles manufacturing businesses we have here.

"However, we have to acknowledge there are unethical and illegal working practices in the industry, which are preventing retailers from buying more locally."

Soulsby says the issue is a national one, but that the pilot will start with Leicester and a focus on ensuring workers are properly paid, well-trained, and work in safe environments.

"We want to support our factories to be the best they can, and to set an example that others can follow. This is a huge challenge and will require effective partnerships between the regulators, the retailers and the manufacturers. I hope that Friday's event will be the start of fruitful relationships to the benefit of all concerned."

Agencies attending include the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service, UK Visa and Immigration, Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Trading Standards, ACAS, the police, Citizens Advice Bureau and The Insolvency Service.

Sir David Metcalf, director of Labour Market Enforcement, who is developing a national Government strategy for enforcement across a range of sectors including textiles, will speak at the event. Senior representatives from New Look and Asos are also expected to attend the meeting.

As well as speed-to-market, UK retailers are increasingly looking at made-at-home opportunities to combat the issues of delayed shipments, rising labour costs, quality claims and compliance issues in overseas factories. Yet poor worker safety means brands are continuing to source abroad. 

Both Asos and New Look have said they would source more from the UK – and Leicester in particular – but both companies have called on British factories to improve worker safety before they do so. 

The move comes just months after the UK Government revealed plans to crack down on exploitation in the supply chains of large firms, with fashion retail one of the main industries being targeted.

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UK Government in fashion supply chain crackdown

Earlier this year, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) advised retailers sourcing garments from the UK city of Leicester to impose significant sanctions against those factories that breach contracts.

A Channel Four Dispatches TV programme, which aired on 23 January, found suppliers in Leicester producing for high street brands including River Island and New Look paying workers between GBP3 (US$3.74) and GBP3.50 (US$4.36) per hour. The UK's national living wage, the legal minimum, currently stands at GBP7.50 per hour for workers aged 25 and over.