By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Workers in Britain making clothes for popular high street retailers like River Island and New Look are being paid less than half the minimum wage, an investigation by Britain's Channel 4 television has found.
The investigation, due to be broadcast on Monday evening, found Leicester-based Fashion Square Ltd and United Creations Ltd, where the clothes were made, paid their employees between 3 pounds ($3.74) and 3.5 pounds ($4.36) per hour.
The hourly rate for the national living wage in Britain is 7.20 pounds ($8.97) for workers 25 years and older.
A Channel 4 reporter who was employed by Fashion Square to label clothes for River Island for 3 pounds per hour, recorded one of the bosses saying competition with Asian exporters was the reason the company wasn't paying the minimum wage.
"We don't get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh," Channel 4's Dispatches program quoted the man as saying. "If we pay everyone 10 pounds or 6 pounds then we will make a loss."
Fashion Square and United Creations denied to the program makers that anyone at their factories was paid below the legal minimum wage.
River Island told Channel 4 it removed Fashion Square from their suppliers' list in February 2016 following two failed audits.
The reporter also had a 3.50 pound per hour job at another Leicester-based factory which -- as a subcontractor -- was producing clothes for New Look, said Channel 4.
A New Look spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the company reduced the number of U.K. suppliers by 80 percent since 2011 in an effort to address potential weaknesses in the supply chain.
The company said it terminated their relationship with the company that subcontracted the orders.
Channel 4 said the reporter was paid 3.25 pounds ($4.05) per hour by United Creations, Ltd., a factory making clothes for Boohoo and Missguided.
Boohoo told Channel 4 it was in talks with United Creations to make sure workers were paid at least the minimum wage, while Missguided said it launched an internal investigation into the allegations.
Both Fashion Square and United Creations denied paying anyone below the minimum wage, Channel 4 said.
River Island did not immediately respond to requests from the Thomson Reuters Foundation for comment.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis @magdalenamis1, editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)