Leicester textile factories blamed for British city's second coronavirus lockdown

A police officer stands guard next to some graffiti in locked-down Leicester on July 1, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Textile factories that operated normally at the height of the coronavirus pandemic could be responsible for a fresh lockdown in the central English city of Leicester, a report claimed on Wednesday (July 1).

The city on Tuesday became the first in Britain to see localised two-week restrictions reimposed because of a spike in Covid-19 cases just days before a planned easing of restrictions.

Labour Behind the Label, which campaigns for the rights of textile workers, claimed in a report that some factories in Leicester operated at full capacity throughout the crisis.

It added it was "inconceivable" they would have been able to do so and still follow social distancing rules and proper virus protection measures.

The report alleged that textile workers were pressured into working, in one case when a staff member had tested positive for the virus.

Furlough wage payments from the government were in some instances kept by bosses rather than passed on to workers, it added.

"Allegations of abuse at many Leicester companies have been reported for years now," said Labour Behind the Label's Dominique Muller.

A parliamentary report last year suggested there are as many 1,000 garment factories operating in the English east Midlands city, which has one of the Britain's most diverse populations.

Labour Behind The Label accused major retail brands including Boohoo, which it said accounted for 75 per cent of clothing production in the city, of doing little to monitor conditions at factories.


In response, Boohoo said it had "fundamentally changed" its operations since the outbreak, noting that online retailing was still permitted throughout the national lockdown.

The fashion site added that "every decision we have made has had the safety and wellbeing of our people at heart", and employees had been given access to free personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.

"None of our suppliers have been affected at this time and we are pleased that our in-house compliance team have been able to resume their work. Our third party auditors are also out visiting sites this week," the company said.

"We have a strict supplier code of conduct, which at times like this are more important than ever, and we would not hesitate to take action if any standards are not met." Public Health England said it could not pinpoint factories as the single source, and added that there was evidence of some transmission in households.

However, the Health and Safety Executive, the body responsible for work welfare standards, said it was investigating three textile businesses and had also undertaken factory site visits.

"We will take enforcement action where necessary and have had continued interactions with key business across Leicester throughout the pandemic to ensure they are working in accordance with health and safety regulations and social distancing measures," it said in a statement.

The move to keep strict measures in place for Leicester comes as England prepares to lift most of its lockdown rules on Saturday, as pubs, cafes and restaurants are allowed to reopen.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told parliament Monday that Leicester had "10 percent of all positive cases in the country over the past week".

Britain is one of the worst affected countries by the global pandemic, with a death toll of almost 44,000 among confirmed Covid-19 cases - the highest in Europe.

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