Liberal Democrats baffled at Labour refusal to stop clothing waste and oppose modern slavery

Liberal Democrat councillors Diane Williamson and Garth Harkness were left baffled when Labour councillors voted against their motion at the full meeting of Oldham Council on Wednesday 15th July 2020. 

Councillor Harkness’s and Williamson’s motion asked Oldham Council to work with representatives from the clothing manufacturers and retailers; the trades unions in these sectors; and campaign groups to develop a strategy to end clothing waste, meet clothing need and tackle the exploitation of garment workers in this Borough.

Councillor Williamson said:  “Across the country there are schemes where people donate clothing and the third sector and local authorities then direct people, who are in need, to these places so that they can get clothing for a special occasion, as well as job interviews.  People are given vouchers and some organisations put a price on items so that anyone can come in and perhaps buy items and all funds go back into the scheme.”

Councillor Garth Harkness said:  “The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group has previously proposed motions to take action on food poverty, fuel poverty, water poverty, and period poverty.  Now we are turning our spotlight on clothing poverty. 

Councillor Garth Harkness

“We have only in the last week seen Boohoo involved in claims of exploitation and unsafe working practices.  This follows a Sunday Times report claiming workers at a Leicester factory were paid £3.50 an hour, while being offered no protection from coronavirus.

“In November 2019, a survey on the Greater Manchester textile and garment industry that included 182 companies operating across the region, also found evidence that workers were being paid as little as £3-4 an hour.” 

No Labour councillors or Conservative councillors decided to speak on the motion. All Labour councillors voted against the motion. One Conservative voted for the motion, one against and two did not vote. 

Councillor Diane Williamson said: “The Labour administration did not even deem it to be worthy of someone to explain why they would not support this motion; I would take on any comments about what was in the motion, but there was deafening silence and they voted against it.  

So why are they voting against tackling sweatshops, supporting low-paid workers and setting up an organisation to support those in need?”

Councillor Garth Harkness said: “Of course, we do not always agree, and I have had motions that have not passed before. In this case I am genuinely baffled. I cannot understand why Labour councillors did not want to address poverty or modern slavery. They all chose to vote against this and not one decided to request to speak. That probably gives an indication of what they think about these important issues.”

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