Remploy, which has announced plans to close 43 factories employing disabled workers, has been operating for more than 60 years.
Unions have warned of industrial action
Remploy was set up under the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act by Ernest Bevin, who was then minister of labour.
The firm was formally founded in April 1945. Its first factory opened in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1946. It made violins and furniture and many of the workers were disabled miners.
'Remploy' was an early brand name which was originally registered by the Ex-Services Employment Corporation.
Derived from 're-employ', the name was adopted by Remploy in 1946. Until then it was called the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation.
From its beginnings more than 60 years ago, the company developed a factory network throughout the UK which operated in a diverse variety of businesses.
Remploy's work has included the manufacture of motor components, school furniture and making chemical, biological and nuclear protection suits for police and military in the UK and overseas.
The company has expanded into the service sector and created businesses such as Remploy Offiscope and E-Cycle.
In 1988, Remploy expanded to help individuals find work with other companies.
Remploy provides a variety of employment opportunities
It also provides advice, pre-employment training and support for disabled people and people with a health condition.
As well as advising workers, Remploy advises employers on issues such as recruitment and retention of workers.
Around 5,000 disabled staff now work in its 83 factories across the UK.
But its announcement of plans to close 43 factories, has sparked the possibility of industrial action.
The Remploy company says it wants to cut costs and place more disabled people into mainstream employment rather than in sheltered workshops.
Remploy, which receives £111m a year in government subsidy, also says it has to close factories to avoid going over budget.
Six disability charities, including Mencap and Mind, have backed the closures, saying disabled people were more likely to have fulfilling lives by working in an "inclusive environment".
Remploy wants to increase the number of disabled jobseekers it supports in mainstream employment. By 2012 it aims to increase this number to 20,000 each year - four times the number today.
Bob Warner, Remploy's chief executive, said: "We have a great opportunity to
help more disabled people find jobs. But we have to change how we work in all areas of Remploy.
"There is now an acceptance that disabled people would prefer to work in mainstream employment alongside non-disabled people rather than in sheltered workshops from which they do not progress and develop."
The firm said its factories were now losing around £100m a year.
Mr Warner said each job in a Remploy factory costs more than £20,000 to support.
He said for the same money the company can place four people in jobs with mainstream employers.
It has already made moves to support this growth and has opened new city-centre branches and launched new services, including Learning and Return to Work.
Remploy recently opened high street branches in Birmingham, Leeds, Plymouth, Leicester and Nottingham.
Unions do support placing more disabled workers into mainstream employment but they argue all the Remploy factories should remain open too.
Jennie Formby, national officer of Unite, said: "Trade unions are not just
arguing for the status quo.
"Our alternative business plan has been fully costed
and not only would maintain all 83 factories but looks at greatly developing and enhancing their role to provide considerable expansion opportunities for the whole disabled community."