I recently met a senior merchandiser at one of the UK’s best-known fast-fashion brands. I asked whether they were thinking about reshoring production from Far Eastern factories to the UK. The answer was a resounding “no”; the company had already used UK factories in the past, but had stopped when they were refused access to audit them as part of their supply chain compliance. It was far easier, they said, to keep a watchful eye on factories thousands of miles away than in Leicester which, I was told, are run by “a mafia”.
These claims are, of course, very hard to prove, let alone do anything to change. The FT’s Sarah O’Connor raised this story – and gave evidence to the same effect in a Parliamentary Select Committee – two years ago. It is only thanks to Covid-19 that criminal investigations are now taking place that could reveal a tangled web of illegal worker exploitation. Who will be implicated is another question altogether.