Leicester’s garment district, which is home to more 1,000 factories, has received fewer than 60 health and safety inspections and only 28 fire inspections since October 2017 despite long-held concerns about working conditions.
The city’s small clothing manufacturers, which employ as many as 10,000 people, were also the subject of just 36 HMRC investigations into payment of the national minimum wage between 2017 and March 2020, according to a freedom of information request filed by the Guardian.
Not only is the rate of inspections low. HMRC has issued penalties to fewer than 10 textile firms that failed to pay the minimum wage since 2017 and claimed just over £100,000 in arrears relating to 143 workers.
The figures highlight the low rate of regulatory oversight of factories in Leicester despite the creation of a multi-agency group to try and tackle their problems in October 2017.
Some buildings, including the former Imperial Typewriter works which houses as many as 40 small factories, have only been inspected once.
There have been nine callouts to factory fires in garment factories in the main LE5 textile district since 2017, including a large blaze that triggered the evacuation of nearby premises in 2018. More major fires have been recorded at garment factories in nearby districts.
Of 58 inspections the Health and Safety Executive has carried out since October 2017, 27 have taken place since 1 April this year, when the coronavirus pandemic renewed attention on Leicester’s garment industry. The HSE has not brought any cases against textile firms in the country as a whole since 2017.
There are only four frontline HSE inspectors in Leicester and three trainees, though the team had managed to visit 45 textile and clothing businesses since March.