MP: 10,000 people working in ‘conditions of modern slavery’ in clothing industry in English city


Thousands of clothing industry workers in an English city are feared to be receiving £3 (€3.52) to £4 (€4.70) an hour in “conditions of modern slavery”, MPs have heard.

Conservative Andrew Bridgen asked ministers to meet with him to discuss allegations he made connected to Leicester.

He offered no further specific details when raising the issue in business, energy and industrial strategy (Beis) questions.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) said: “Would the minister agree for a meeting with me to discuss the situation in Leicester, where I believe there are approximately 10,000 people in the clothing industry being paid £3 to £4 an hour in conditions of modern slavery?”

Business minister Kelly Tolhurst replied: “Yes, I would be absolutely happy to meet with him.

“This is a particular sector that has been under focus, there has been much work that has been carried out by HMRC and cross-border agencies – HMRC enforce the national living wage – but I’d be happy to get any details that he particularly has that’d be helpful.”

The minimum wage is currently £8.21 (€9.64) an hour for people aged 25 and over, which will increase to £8.72 (€10.24) from April 2020.

For workers aged 21 to 24, it is £7.70 (€9.04) an hour rising to £8.20 (€9.63) in April, for 18 to 20-year-olds it is £6.15 (€7.22) rising to £6.45 (€7.22), for under-18s it is £4.35 (€5.11) rising to £4.55 (€5.34) and for apprentices it is £3.90 (€4.58) rising to £4.15 (€4.87).

Labour’s Rachel Reeves, who chaired the Beis committee in the last parliament, said the Government was offering “warm words” on enforcing the minimum wage.

She said: “The truth is in the last 10 years just nine firms have been prosecuted and fined for non-payment of the minimum wage.

“Where those fines are levied they are only half of the level that they could be levied at.

Why is that if this is such an area of importance for this Government?

Ms Tolhurst replied: “I would like to correct her that there have been 14 prosecutions for the national minimum wage.

“But also what I’d like to make clear to the House is there are other ways in making sure employers pay without just bringing prosecutions.”

Shadow minister Rachael Maskell said there has been a “decade of workers being exploited under this Government’s watch”.

Ms Tolhurst described this as a “complete misrepresentation” of the Government’s work over the last 10 years.

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