Waste recycling: raising the standards

On behalf of our members, and the charity retail sector in general, we want to promote the best possible standards in the textile recycling and rag trades. Charity retailers are ethical organisations and therefore only wish to deal with companies which promote high standards in areas like financial probity, health and safety and employment rights. Pursuing these standards also helps to shield charities from reputational risk and can even lower insurance premiums.

This is why we have joined the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum to discuss how the industry can promote the best standards (you can read my previous blogs on this work here and here). Earlier this month, I travelled to the headquarters of Shoezone in Leicester for the latest meeting of this forum.

Our group is working towards a standard audit which any charity retailer could use to check that their rag merchant is compliant with the kinds of standards we would like to see.

Ideas for the audit list – which will amalgamate multiple forms currently used by multiple charities and other organisations – include (but are certainly not limited to) the following:

Financial probity

  • Check on the directors of the company and their background in the sector to ensure they are not a phoenix of a previous company which defaulted on payments to charities
  • Finding out how much of their business is with individual charities as withdrawing business at short notice could have a huge affect on individuals who work for the merchant
  • A check on accounts and payment of taxes

Health and safety

  • Ensuring that someone in the management team has health and safety qualifications and accreditation
  • Enforcing safety standards at the point of collection
  • Checking sites have a fire prevention plan

Employment rights

  • Guaranteeing that staff are paid at least the minimum wage
  • Ensuring that staff do not have to pay for their uniforms out of their wages or are denied holiday pay
  • Doing whatever possible to ensure that workers have not been trafficked

Labour exploitation

At the meeting we a received a presentation from Sam Ireland, Head of Business Change at the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), a Home Office Agency with police powers to tackle labour issues from none-compliance with the Minimum Wage Act right up to trafficking of slaves. Worryingly, the GLAA estimate that between 10,000 and 13,000 people are slaves in the UK at any one point in time.

She described how the process of trafficking works and why this is such a difficult problem to tackle particular as vulnerable people come to internalise their victim status and sympathise with their gang masters.

Ms Ireland encouraged people to report problems directly to the GLAA, either by telephone (0800 432 0804), email (intelligence@gla.gsi.gov.uk), or on twitter (@uk_glaa). She further emphasised how the GLAA’s mode of working is protect all sources and keep reports anonymous. For example, a business with concerns about their agency workforce would not be named if they reported concerns and worked with the team to resolve them.


We received a tour of the Shoezone factory and facilities. They have 500 stores across the country and sell around 20 million pairs of shoes a year. They are now developing a further B2B service for companies that want to supply their staff with footwear, this includes organisations like Timpsons and Pinewood Studios.

Shoezone can also decentralise purchasing, for example giving business customers codes they can pass onto staff who can then pick out their own pair in store and have it charged back the company. Shoezone have a B2B agreement to supply the UK’s largest charity retailer, British Heart Foundation, and as part of the deal have to ensure that all of the products are produced to high safety and ethical standards.

Next steps

The group are keen to move quickly to agree the parameters in each of the three topic areas outlined above. This will be done by groups of experts in each area working together to amalgamate their standards.

Once this is complete we will have a clear set of agreed standards and can reconvene to produce a final product that charity retailers can use to begin auditing and approving rag merchants.

Matt Kelcher
Head of Public Affairs and Research
Charity Retail Association