More than 50 MPs and peers have written to the Home Secretary urging him to do more to protect workers in UK garment factories from exploitation.
It follows reports that workers at Leicester factories are underpaid and unprotected against Covid-19.
Fast fashion brands Boohoo and Quiz have both been accused of using unethical vendors in the city and have since vowed to investigate.
The government has said that commercial exploitation is “despicable”.
The letter – which has also been signed by investors, charities and retailers such as Asda and Asos – indicates that concerns about the unethical use of labor in the UK industry clothing have been raised “repeatedly” over the past five years by academics, retailers and members of parliament, but little had been done.
He said that “thousands more” could be exploited without stronger government action.
“The public wants to know that the clothes they buy were made by workers who are respected, valued and protected by law,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, head of the British Retail Consortium, who coordinated the letter.
Last week, Quiz announced it had suspended a supplier after learning that a Leicester factory offered a worker £ 3 an hour to make his clothes.
The national minimum wage for people over 25 is £ 8.72 an hour.
Rival retailer Boohoo has also been accused of using a factory that underpaid workers, while doing nothing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The letter urged Interior Minister Priti Patel to introduce a new licensing system for clothing factories that:
- Protect workers from forced labor, debt bondage and ill-treatment, while guaranteeing payment of the national minimum wage and paid holidays
- Stop rogue companies from undermining compliant manufacturers
- And encourage retailers to source from the UK, by supporting the development of a “world-class ethical industry”.
Boohoo boss John Lyttle wrote to Ms Patel on Friday urging her to pass the proposals.
“We are taking action to investigate allegations of professional misconduct in our supply chain and we are calling on the government to act as well,” he said.
Boohoo and Quiz said the claims made about their suppliers – if true – are “totally unacceptable” and promised to take action.
“Free to operate”
The National Crime Agency has also confirmed that it is investigating Leicester’s textile industry into allegations of exploitation, although it has not commented on Boohoo or Quiz in particular.
Safeguard Minister Victoria Atkins said: “Exploiting vulnerable people for commercial gain is despicable and this government will not stand it.
“We expect all companies involved in these allegations to conduct a full and thorough investigation to ensure that their supply chains are free from labor exploitation.
“We have liaised with relevant agencies regarding alleged labor practices at the Leicester garment factories. We are awaiting the results of these investigations. “