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Dr Amy Benstead, University of Manchester; Dr Helen Goworek, Durham University
Dr Dane Lukic and Erica Charles, GCU London
Research Project Grant
2022

The role of worker voice in factory audits in the Leicester ready-made garment industry

Using an interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral approach, this research project aims to address how worker voice can most effectively be accessed and incorporated into audit policies

Woman's hands sewing machine
Photo by Reuben Kim on Unsplash.

Modern slavery is an ongoing challenge in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry. There has been increased media attention surrounding UK garment factories due to allegations of underpayment of wages and unsafe working conditions. This, however, is not a new problem; labour exploitation in locations such as Leicester, UK, has long been an open secret. Manufacturing in the UK allows retailers to react quickly to the demand for fast fashion. However, labour intensity and low margins in a higher-cost location where wages are higher increase the risk of social problems such as forced labour and human trafficking. It is this exploitation of workers that prevents many retailers from increasing UK sourcing, which could otherwise have wider economic benefits. When it comes to protecting workers, governments often lack the political will and resources, and brands often lack the financial incentive to enforce already lacking policy frameworks. There is a fundamental need to show the value in ‘worker voice’ (the views of the workers) to ascertain the genuine position of what is happening and ensure the safeguarding of workers. 

Our research project aims to explore and expand on the impact of worker voice on the auditing and due diligence processes relating to modern slavery in the Leicester RMG industry. The worker’s voice is needed to uncover the reality of their working environment, and we need to empower workers to help prevent exploitation. This research will benefit the research country (UK) and provide insights for the fashion industry. Given the complex and pervasive nature of modern slavery, there is a need for more empirical evidence in the field. Therefore, this project addresses gaps highlighted in prior research and responds to a call for research that considers worker voice. Our study provides a truly independent evaluation that addresses how worker voice can most effectively be accessed and incorporated into audits and due diligence, utilising a bottom-up and problem-solving approach. 

Our research team, whose vision is about driving change through research, has composed an original project in an area that has become more important and significant within academic literature and the broader society. This innovative study aims to demonstrate the value of worker voice via a community-centred and co-creation research approach. This project is vital for companies that wish to meet the standards of transparency and efficacy in line with forthcoming legislation.

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