image: River Island

image: River Island

Laborers in Britain responsible for making clothes for popular fast fashion retailers like River Island and New Look are being paid less than half the required minimum wage. An investigation by Britain’s Channel 4 television has revealed that Leicester-based manufacturers, Fashion Square Ltd and United Creations Ltd, which supply garments and accessories to River Island, New Look, Boohoo, and Missguided, among other retailers, paid their employees between 3 pounds ($3.74) and 3.5 pounds ($4.36) per hour. The hourly rate for the national living wage in Britain is 7.20 pounds ($8.97) for workers 25 years and older.

An undercover Channel 4 reporter who was employed by Fashion Square to label clothes for River Island – which notably teamed up with singer Rihanna for a string of collaborations in 2013 – for 3 pounds per hour, recorded one of the bosses saying competition with Asian exporters was the reason the company was not paying the minimum wage. “We don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh,” Channel 4 quoted the man as saying. “If we pay everyone 10 pounds or 6 pounds then we will make a loss.”

Fashion Square and United Creations denied that anyone at their factories was paid below the legal minimum wage, and River Island told Channel 4 that it removed Fashion Square from their suppliers’ list in February 2016 following two failed audits.

The reporter also maintained a 3.50 pound per hour job at another Leicester-based factory, which, as a subcontractor, produced clothes for New Look, and was paid 3.25 pounds ($4.05) per hour by United Creations, Ltd., a factory making clothes for Boohoo and Missguided.

According to Reuters, “a New Look spokesperson said the company reduced the number of U.K. suppliers by 80 percent since 2011 in an effort to address potential weaknesses in the supply chain. The company said it terminated their relationship with the company that subcontracted the orders. Boohoo told Channel 4 it was in talks with United Creations to make sure workers were paid at least the minimum wage, while Missguided said it launched an internal investigation into the allegations.”

Both Fashion Square and United Creations denied paying anyone below the minimum wage, Channel 4 said. River Island did not immediately respond to requests from the Thomson Reuters Foundation for comment.