English cardinal welcomes US investigation into garment-making industry

Aerial_Leicester_2017.jpg An aerial view of the city of Leicester in England’s East Midlands region. Credit: DougPR (CC0).

An English cardinal on Monday welcomed a U.S. investigation into alleged labor abuses in the garment-making industry in the city of Leicester.

In a March 1 statement, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that a reported probe by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would bring attention to "the extent of forced and exploited labor" in garment factories in England's East Midlands region.

"Actions such as these can bring pressure on anyone seemingly profiting from exploitation while avoiding all responsibility for it," said the cardinal, who is president of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and Catholic bishops combating human trafficking and modern slavery.

Sky News reported on March 2 that CBP had seen sufficient evidence to launch an inquiry after the campaign group Liberty Shared submitted two petitions in February under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930.

The Act prohibits the importation of "merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor." Such products are "subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s)."

The first petition, submitted on Feb. 1, concerned apparel products sold by Boohoo PLC, one of the U.K.'s fastest-growing fashion retailers. The second, filed on Feb. 7, related to apparel businesses based in Leicester as a whole, with the exception of two companies, Basic Premier Limited and Ethically Sourced Products Limited.

In July 2020, the Sunday Times newspaper published an exposé on working conditions at a Boohoo supplier in Leicester.  

Boohoo asked lawyer Alison Levitt to conduct an independent review of its Leicester supply chain, which concluded that "allegations of unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers are not only well-founded, but are substantially true."

The company promised to implement Levitt's recommendations in full.

In a statement reported by Sky News, Boohoo said: "We are confident in the actions that we are taking to ensure that all of our products meet and exceed the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) criteria on preventing the product of forced labor entering the U.S. (or any of our markets)."

"The Group continues to make excellent progress as it works to implement the Review's recommendations and improve our supply chain in Leicester."

Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, said: "Pope Francis has graphically described profit made from the labor exploitation of any child, woman or man, as 'blood money' and the fight against modern slavery requires this kind of international cooperation if it is to register any progress."

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