Government creates body to protect retail workers' rights

The Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced that the UK Government is set to create a new watchdog that will crack down on the abuse of workers’ rights in retail and other sectors.

BEIS said the new body will be responsible for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage, and protecting agency workers and will act as a “single, recognisable port of call for workers so they know their rights and can blow the whistle on bad behaviour”.

The watchdog will draw from three pre-existing bodies: the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and HMRC's National Minimum Wage Enforcement.

The move follows a year-long investigation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority into worker exploitation in Leicester factories.

Allegations of workers’ rights abuses have plagued fast fashion retailer Boohoo over the last year, including reports of workers being paid as little as £3.50 an hour across 18 factories in the Midlands city.

Boohoo recently complied with pressure from shareholders and MPs to link its bonus scheme to improvements in its supply chain.

Abuse of retail workers has also been a prominent issue during the pandemic; statistics from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) recently found there were 455 incidents of violence or abuse towards retail staff each day during the 2019/20 financial year, a 7 per cent increase from 2018/19.

"This government has been absolutely clear that we will do whatever we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights,” said business minister Paul Scully. “The vast majority of businesses want to do right by their staff, but there are a minority who seem to think the law doesn’t apply to them.”

“Exploitative practices like modern slavery have no place in society.”

He added: "This new workers’ watchdog will help us crack down on any abuses of workers’ rights and take action against companies that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains, while providing a one-stop shop for employees and businesses wanting to understand their rights and obligations."

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