UK lawmakers dismiss claims that fast-fashion factories are linked to a city Covid-19 spike
- Textile factories in a UK city have come under investigation after reports surfaced that employers were putting workers at risk of Covid-19 infection. A workers' rights group said the conditions likely contributed to a fresh wave of infections in the city.
- While the local government said there is "no evidence" of these factories being linked to the spike, an expert told Business Insider that crowded factories are hotbeds for infection.
- The spread of the virus "boils down to crowded spaces, social distancing not being adhered to, and not paying enough attention to the appropriate hygiene," the expert said..
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Textile factories making clothes for fast-fashion brands in Leicester, England, face an investigation by the UK health authorities after a workers' rights group found multiple instances of workers being put at risk of catching Covid-19. By flouting social distancing rules, these factories may have contributed to a new wave of infection in the city, which is now under local lockdown, the group said.
This claim is yet to be backed by the authorities.
A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive in the UK confirmed that it has found factories violating health and safety requirements related to coronavirus, and said that it is taking "enforcement action of some kind" at half of the 30 textile factories it has visited.
The common problems it is seeing are a lack of social distancing, an adequate cleaning regime, and employees not being given the chance to wash their hands frequently.
"HSE is carrying out proactive checks to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect workers from Covid-19. There has been no instance of a factory closing following an outbreak because of action taken by HSE," a spokesperson said.
But Leicester City Council, which covers an area home to more than 1,500 textile factories, said in a press release on July 6 that so far the investigation has found "no evidence to suggest that the rise in coronavirus cases in the city is linked to the textile industry." A spokesperson for Public Health England, which is spearheading this investigation, told Business Insider that the recent CovidD-19 "reflects activity in a number of settings in Leicester".
"While there have been cases associated with workplaces, there is evidence of transmission occurring in households meaning we cannot definitely attribute the increase in cases to any one source," they said.
Experts say that these factories are breeding grounds for infection.
The spread of the virus "boils down to crowded spaces, social distancing not being adhered to, and not paying enough attention to the appropriate hygiene, and I suspect that is something that is going on in these factories in Leicester", Lawrence Young, a virologist and pro-dean at the University of Warwick, said in a phone conversation with Business Insider.
Lack of ventilation is also an important factor in spreading the virus, he said, which is an issue in crowded workshop-type situations.
"The other issue is people shouting at each other ... We know that loud speaking or shouting can spread the virus so on a busy production line where it's noisy and you're shouting across each other, that is another factor that will contribute," Young added.
Over the past few months, factories - especially food manufacturers and food plants - have become hotspots for Covid-19 infection. Business Insider's Kate Taylor recently reported that workers at these plants in the US are particularly vulnerable because they work long shifts in close contact.
Young said workers at food factories are also more vulnerable to catching the virus by touching contaminated surfaces because the virus lives longer in refrigerated environments. Workers in textile factories, where it is generally hotter, might be at less risk of catching the virus in this particular way, he said.
Socioeconomic factors might also play a part. "There might be people that are feeling a bit sick but their imperative is to get to work to make a living," Young said.
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