The Round Up: Fast Fashion Victims

13 July 2020 by

In the News:

In a recent report entitled “It Still Happens Here”,  the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the anti-slavery charity Justice and Care have found a rise in incidents of domestic slavery, and warned that the problem is likely to intensify in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

Among a number of recommendations, the report calls for:

  • The government to produce a new cross-departmental modern slavery strategy;
  • Mandatory training to ensure that public authorities are aware of their duties under the Modern Slavery Act;
  • The passage of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill 2019-20, to give victims in England and Walves a guaranteed right to support for a minimum period of 12 months;
  • The Department of Work and Pensions to develop more robust measures to identify cases of modern slavery; and
  • The introduction of measures to require greater transparency in supply chains, and the ability to scrutinise and hold to account companies that fail to tackle slavery in their supply chains.

In relation to the final recommendation, the court said that it was “particularly pressing given reports of the links between labour exploitation in garment factories and an outbreak of COVID-19 in Leicester.”

The report refers to claims that sweatshops in Leicester continued to operate during the pandemic, currently being investigated by the National Crime Agency.

Implicated online fashion retailer Boohoo has seen its share price slump by 23%, bringing its lockdown boom period, during which its online sales rose by 45%, to an abrupt end. Boohoo has appointed Alison Levitt QC to lead an independent review, and promised to spend £10m to end “malpractice”.

But the reports hardly break new ground. The Financial Times attempted to expose Boohoo’s links to exploitative practices in the Leicester garment industry as far back as May 2018. Its report emphasised that the problem had been discussed in detail by representatives from UK Visas and Immigration, the Health and Safety Executive, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and Leicester council, but that little was done to address the problem.

After the more recent reports, the mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby,  and three local Labour MPs have been accused of failing to act on warnings about the situation given more than three months ago. In response, Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East where many of the factories are based, called the accusations “outrageous”. She emphasised that “the government has been in power for 10 years”, and said that it needed “to properly fund the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities if it’s serious about making a change.”

So: the Tories blame Labour, Labour blames the Tories, and Boohoo and Leicester are singled out for public shaming. But the CSJ’s report makes it clear that this is no isolated incident. Moreover, since “poverty, lack of opportunity and other vulnerabilities” (the main drivers of modern slavery and economic exploitation) have only intensified during the coronavirus crisis, “action is now more crucial than ever.” Whether it will be taken this time, unlike in 2018, remains to be seen.

In Other News

  • In a consultation launched last week, the MoJ has been considering whether to allow the High Court as well as the Court of Appeal to depart from European Union case law from next year.
  • On 6 July, a new Sanctions regime created by the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 came into force, allowing the government to impose travel bans and freeze the assets of individuals involved in serious violations of certain human rights. The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the powers would enable to UK “to target a wider network of perpetrators … and this extends beyond state officials to non-state actors as well.”
  • Leslie Thomas QC, representing survivors and bereaved families in the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, has said that the inquiry “must not ignore” that the 2017 incident was “inextricably linked with race.” He went on to state that there were “parallel themes” between the fire, the killing of George Floyd, and the disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths among people from minority ethnic backgrounds.
  • The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has indicated that in order to tackle the backlog of crown court cases, the Ministry of Justice will opt for extended opening hours, emergency “Nightingale” courts, and, possibly, smaller juries. The MoJ’s shift away from proposing non-jury trials comes after widespread criticism from legal professionals (including 90% of members of the Criminal Bar Association) and opposition from the shadow justice secretary, David Lammy. In recent weeks, in the wake of heightened attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, the proposals were met with specific criticism on the basis that trial by jury is the “only part of the criminal justice process” proven not to discriminate against minority ethnic groups.
  • After the Metropolitan Police apologised this week to Team GB athlete Bianca Williams over a stop-and-search incident, the police watchdog is launching a review into whether the practice is racially discriminatory. In related news, new figures indicate that young black men were stopped and searched more than 20,000 times in London during lockdown – the equivalent of more than a quarter of that demographic.

In the Courts

On the UKHRB  

  • Rosalind English summarises the Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss the secretary of state’s challenge to an FGM protection order relating to a child under imminent threat of deportation. The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been urged to grant the girl asylum in an open letter signed by more than 300 people, including Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, campaigner Leyla Hussein and more than 30 MPs.
  • Jonathan Metzer considers whether human rights are being breached by the “squalid” conditions in some British prisons, revealed by recent reports from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
  • David McKaveney offers an overview of two appeals concerning the roles and rights of siblings in children’s hearings in Scotland.
  • In the latest episode of Law Pod UK Rosalind English talks to the head of indemnity at the British Dental Association Len D’Cruz about the challenges facing the dental profession during lockdown.
  • Dominic Ruck Keene summarises Mr Justice Lewis’s decision to refuse permission to bring a judicial review of the legality of the lockdown Regulations and measures.
  • Sapan Maini-Thompson assesses a High Court ruling that article 6(1) ECHR does not apply to the forthcoming judicial review of the government’s decision not to hold a public enquiry into alleged UK involvement in torture.

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