Since last year, we have been campaigning for the online fast fashion brand Boohoo to clean up its supply chain and publish its supplier list. Thousands of you signed our petition. Multiple news reports of illegally exploited workers in Leicester and dodgy practices brought Boohoo under the spotlight, and this provoked the brand to commission an “independent review” by a lawyer – Alison Levitt QC – into what happened in their suppliers and what should be done. That review is now out. Here is our take on it.
Labour behind the label welcomes the publication of the Independent Review into the Boohoo Group Plc’s Leicester supply chain which is a damning indictment of the practices, culture and failings at the group in regard to its workers.
Allegations of widespread abuses substantiated
While Boohoo initially dismissed the allegations contained in our report of 30 June – Boohoo & Covid-19: The people behind the profit – claiming findings as inaccurate and untrue, it is now clear that abuses are endemic within their supply chain and our findings are substantiated. The abuses – including massive wage theft and non-compliance with minimum wage regulations, inadequate and slapdash auditing, a lack of proper oversight of the supply chain, an unwillingness to take responsibility at the highest level within the Boohoo Group, and the overarching pursuit of profit and growth at the expense of proper corporate governance – needs a strong and consistent commitment by Boohoo to make systemic changes to its business practices and to ensure this commitment outlasts the media attention.
Boohoo promises lacking
The response and actions outlined by Boohoo in the report, while welcomed as a sign of progress, are lacking in detail and ambition. Boohoo needs to commit to ensuring its pricing model isolates labour costs and ensures decent wages; Boohoo needs to sign the Transparency Pledge and make all of its supplier details public (at home and abroad), Boohoo needs to end its behaviour of terminating ties with suppliers without paying back wages. Indeed Boohoo should make funding immediately available (through a totally independent body) to ensure that all workers who have enabled Boohoo Group to make huge profits over the years are fully compensated for years of working at half the minimum wage. Finally, and most importantly Boohoo must ensure that it commits to openness and transparency and does not – as it did this summer – seek to cover up the numerous allegations of abuses.
Government failings play a part
Abuses in Leicester garment factories must be set within a wider landscape of laws and business practices that are clearly failing to provide adequate protections to garment workers across the UK. Much of the information, including instances of blatant non-compliance with UK law contained in the Review, highlight the appalling lack of government oversight on business practice in this sector to drive meaningful change. The government must take action to curb the abusive business practices of brands that have contributed to this situation and urgently assess the need for mandatory due diligence.
Abuses in Leicester garment factories and throughout the globe have been well documented over many years. These abuses, which are systemic in their nature and global in their impact, are facilitated by relentless pressure on suppliers by brands such as Boohoo. Pressures include production in short time scales and at very low or even no profit margins. The purchasing power wielded by brands has pushed the grave impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic onto smaller suppliers and workers while the structure of brands’ supply chains allows them to profit from exploitation, evading legal accountability. Urgent action is needed both to ensure all workers in the Leicester garment industry – and beyond – are protected, and to curb the abusive business practices of retailers/brands that have contributed to this situation.