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ASOS AGM Question 2023

Question to the board of ASOS
AGM date: 11th January 2023
Venue: Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7FB
Time: 12.00

Question on living wages and long-term security for workers

In 2021, ASOS announced the launch of its 2030 Programme for Fashion with Integrity, which included commitments to net zero, circularity diversity and transparency. We understand that progress towards these goals will be measured by a series of KPIs linked to the CEO performance and committee renumeration packages. We also note that ASOS has committed to developing a human rights saliency assessment this year in order to detail its concrete plans. While these commitments are welcomed, LBL is clear that paper commitments are meaningless without positive impacts in the real world,  and indeed decades of such paper commitments have not resulted in real progress towards decent work and decent wages for garment workers globally.

Can you provide clear details of how this assessment will measure short, medium and long-term progress towards freedom of association in ASOS suppliers, the actual payment of a living wage by ASOS suppliers and the improvement of working conditions?

In particular, considering the statement by the new CEO that ASOS is focusing on a shorter buying cycle, a test and react sourcing model and optimising costs, can you outline how this will not in practice negatively impact ASOS’ commitment to long term relationships with suppliers, longer lead terms, improved forecasting and prices which clearly ringfence or cover wage costs which act as ‘key enablers’ ensuring progress towards a living wage?

 For reference: https://www.asosplc.com/fashion-with-integrity/people/modern-slavery-and-human-rights/

 

Press release: Concerns raised about Primark’s commitments towards supply chain workers ahead of Annual General Meeting

Press release for immediate use: 9 December, 2022

Representatives from the human rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label will today raise concerns that Primark is not doing enough to protect workers during the global economic downturn.

The garment industry is facing a crunch point as the global economic downturn sends shockwaves through all economies. Garment suppliers, both in the UK and overseas have reported a drop in orders from brands which is further squeezing supplier factories still reeling from pandemic-related financial loss.

These financial losses are ultimately passed on to workers themselves. The Clean Clothes Campaign estimates that garment workers are owed $11 billion in unpaid wages from the first 12 months of the pandemic alone [1]. Reductions in orders during the Covid-19 crisis resulted in a wave of factory closures, resulting in thousands of workers who were not paid their legally owed severance [2].

Factory closures are set to continue in the current economic downturn, and losses will continue to be passed on to workers, with short-term contracts not renewed, wages and compensation unpaid.

Labour Behind the Label will ask what Primark is doing to ensure its due diligence is met with respect to ensuring workers receive their pay and severance when factories do close, and specifically whether it will meet requests from unions to join a binding severance guarantee fund to protect workers from bearing the cost of factory closures.

“I have to pay debt, water, and electricity bills monthly, but my wages are not enough. I don’t want to see high production targets with a decreasing number of workers to meet them. We don’t have enough income to pay for our basic living costs.”

Worker producing for Primark in Cambodia [3]

“Primark has continued to profit after the pandemic. For them, the crisis may be over, but the workers making their clothes are still impacted by pandemic-related wage theft and live under the constant threat of job loss due to reducing orders. Primark must ensure that the most vulnerable in their supply chain do not pay the biggest price during the economic crisis. They must commit to a binding severance guarantee to provide a safety net for the workers who make their clothes.”

Meg Lewis, Campaigns Lead – Labour Behind the Label

“Primark has continued to profit after the pandemic. For them the crisis may be over, but the workers making their clothes are still impacted by pandemic-related wage theft and live under the threat of job loss due to reducing orders. Primark must ensure that the most vulnerable in their supply chain do not pay the biggest price during the economic crisis. They must commit to a binding severance guarantee to provide a safety net for the workers who make their clothes.”

The full text of the question being put to the Primark board is available here.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.
  • The Primark Annual General Meeting will be held at Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street on Friday, 9 December 2022 at 11 am.

[1] Clean Clothes Campaign (2021)  Still Underpaid: How the garment industry has failed to pay its garment workers during the pandemic

[2] Workers Rights Consortium (2021) Fired, then robbed: Fashion brands’ complicity in wage theft during Covid-19.

[3] Clean Clothes Campaign (2021) Breaking point: Wage theft, violence and excessive workloads are pushing garment workers to breaking point during the pandemic.

Primark (ABF) AGM Question 2022

Question to the board of Associated British Foods plc
AGM date: 9th December 2022
Venue: Congress Centre, 28 Great Russell Street, London
Time: 11.00

Question on factory closures and compensation for workers

My name is Meg, and I’m here today from Labour Behind the Label. My question today is about Primark’s approach to factory closures and compensation for workers in production countries following supply chain disruption, past and future. The garment industry is facing a crunch point as the global economic downturn sends shockwaves through all economies, and the lowest paid in supply chains feel the impact. Garment suppliers both here in the UK and overseas have reported a drop in orders from brands, which is further squeezing businesses still reeling from pandemic-related financial loss. This in turn results in factory closures. Losses are passed on to workers, as short term contracts are not renewed, and compensation and wages are not paid. A Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report shows that unionised workers have been unfairly targeted due to union membership and organising. Social protection and freedom of association should be the nets in place to ensure workers are protected from these kind of economic shocks, but we all know that social protection globally is lacking for the majority of workers who make clothing.

In the AB Foods Responsibility Report 2022, you state that “The erosion of workers’ rights, and the ongoing effects of COVID-19 pose a significant threat to [workers’] quality of life” as well as risk to business supply chains, and also note that the UN Guiding Principles require businesses to have a systematic approach to human rights due diligence.

Given this background, my question relates to what Primark is doing to ensure its due diligence is met with respect to ensuring workers receive their pay and severance when factories do close. Specifically,

  • Does Primark ensure supplier reserves are enough to make wage payments and severance payouts in the event of closure as part of its responsible exit policy?
  • What is Primark’s response to requests from unions to join a binding severance guarantee fund to protect workers from bearing the cost of factory closures?

Finally, can the board speak to the concrete measures Primark has put in place to protect the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively?

 

Activists push back against Boohoo Black Friday sales for harming workers and the planet

Activists push back against Boohoo Black Friday sales for harming workers and the planet

For immediate use, and all Black Friday week
Wednesday 23rd November
Hook: Cheap Black Friday sales from online fashion brands including Boohoo

  • Black Friday protesting is set to take place outside Boohoo’s head office this Friday in anger at the company’s abuse of workers and the planet.
  • Workers across supply chain unite in anger at reports of abusive work practices highlighted in Times report.
  • Sale items under £2 called out as ‘a crime against our future planet and against workers’ rights’.
  • Unions, workers’ rights groups, climate activists and fashion influencers will come together to demand that Boohoo meet and respond to demands.

Unions, environmental activists and workers’ rights groups will protest outside fast fashion firm Boohoo’s HQ this Friday to demand the company stop harming the planet and abusing workers’ rights. Groups will oppose the extreme consumer discounts being promoted online this week and call on the firm and other e-retailers to move towards a Just Transition for the industry.

Clare Richardson, Extinction Rebellion Fashion Action activist said:
“With the world facing environmental and social disaster, extreme Black Friday discounts on Boohoo’s already impossibly low prices are a crime against our future planet and against workers’ rights”.

“Boohoo uploads an average of 116 new styles to its website every day [1], many under £5 at full price. Mass disposable fashion sales are inherently unsustainable, contributing to the estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste [2] disposed of yearly. In spite of Boohoo’s vague references to ‘sustainable’ development, selling huge volumes of clothing at such low prices is impossible without labour rights violations and environmentally damaging production impacts. Boohoo must change its business model. A Just Transition for the fashion industry is essential to avoid social and ecological collapse.”

Anna Bryher, Labour Behind the Label campaigner said:
“Boohoo’s business empire is built on the exploitation of workers. The £4 an hour wages in Leicester that were linked to Boohoo’s labels time and time again, year on year [3], were the bedrock of its success. Boohoo’s latest round of woke-washing does not cover up the debt owed to workers in Leicester [4] and the deficit in legal wages which should be paid back to them.”

“While the business may be shifting production out of Leicester at present [5] and away from the media spotlight, minimum wages in Turkey and Pakistan, although legal, still represent extreme worker exploitation, as governments have failed to set liveable minimum wage thresholds for decades. Boohoo must make a radical shift in its business model to be in its own words ‘fit for the future’. Paying a living wage to its workers and ensuring unions are respected, is the absolute minimum.”

The retail trade union Usdaw will be speaking at the demonstration. The union represents workers at Boohoo’s warehouse and call centre in Burnley along with head office staff in Manchester. Boohoo has refused to recognise Usdaw repeatedly, despite direct requests by MPs and more, leaving Boohoo staff without a real voice at work.

Mike Aylward, Usdaw Regional Secretary said:
“Regrettably, Boohoo has played fast and loose with their responses to persistent calls for the company to become an ethical trader. They have not made any progress on working with Usdaw since the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended the company engages with us [6]. It feels like they were just saying whatever it took to get them through the MPs’ investigation.”

“We again ask Boohoo to take the simple step of sitting down with Usdaw to explore how we can work together. Boohoo could go a long way towards repairing their damaged reputation by meeting with Usdaw and engaging in a positive relationship. The company needs to clearly demonstrate to their employees, customers and the communities they operate in, that Boohoo is serious about being an ethical trader. We are joining with Labour Behind the Label to seek fairness and respect for fashion industry workers.”

The coalition is requesting that Boohoo meet to discuss meaningful action on workers’ rights and the climate, that they recognise the Usdaw union and that they pay workers in their supply chain a living wage.

ENDS

 

******
Photo and interview opportunity
Black Friday Demonstration outside Boohoo HQ
Date: Friday 25^th November, 1000
Location: Boohoo HQ, Dale Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester
Available for Interview: representatives from USDAW, Labour Behind the Label, and XR Fashion Action.
*****

High quality photos of the demonstration will be available on request by 3pm on Friday 25^th.

Contact
Anna Bryher (Labour Behind the Label) on +44 7786 832035
www.labourbehindthelabel.org

Notes
[1] https://www.vice.com/en/article/n7j43m/boohoocom-uploads-every-day-fast-fashion
[2] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200710-why-clothes-are-so-hard-to-recycle
[3] https://www.ft.com/content/e427327e-5892-11e8-b8b2-d6ceb45fa9d0
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/23/textile-firms-paying-uk-workers-3-per-hour-investigation-finds
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8511651/Sweatshop-owner-Boohoo-factory-confesses-pays-workers-shocking-4-hour.html
https://www.chargedretail.co.uk/2021/08/02/boohoo-garment-workers-still-being-paid-less-than-minimum-wage-according-to-new-report/
[4] This debt is estimated to be in the region of £125 million. In 2020, the British Retail Consortium calculated that workers in Leicester were being underpaid £2.1m a week. https://www.thebusinessdesk.com/eastmidlands/news/2041936-leicester-textile-workers-owed-over-27m-says-report.
This had grown from 2015 estimates, where Unversity of Leicester research put this underpayment at around £1m a week. https://amp.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/feb/27/made-in-britain-uk-textile-workers-earning-3-per-hour
Boohoo was sourcing 50-80% of Leicester’s total output between 2015 and 2021. It is therefore a conservative estimate to assume that £50m in underpayment of wages per year, should result in Boohoo owing £125m in over a 5-year period, before the company made significant steps towards removing illegal pay from its supply chains.
[5] https://www.cityam.com/boohoo-cuts-ties-with-hundreds-of-suppliers-following-leicester-factory-scandal
[6] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Report into fashion industry sustainability: “We recommend that Boohoo engage with Usdaw as a priority and recognise unions for its workers.” https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/1952/1952.pdf

Participating Organisations:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK’s fifth biggest trade union with over 400,000 members. Membership has increased by more than one-third over the last couple of decades. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Labour Behind the Label is a UK campaign and policy group that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry. It is a UK member of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a coalition of over 250 organizations worldwide working collectively to address human rights issues in fashion and call for change. See www.labourbehindthelabel.org and www.cleanclothes.org for further information.

Extinction Rebellion Fashion Action (XRFA) is a grassroots, non-violent direct action group, branching from the climate crisis mass movement Extinction Rebellion (XR). XRFA has sister groups across the world, and is made up of activists concerned about the damage the toxic fashion industry causes to people and planet. It takes direct and creative action against the fashion industry, and is proud to work in partnership with other organisations sharing similar goals this Black Friday. See www.xrfashionaction.com and @xrfashionaction on Instagram for more information. 

Press release: Activists call on Boohoo board to give evidence that prices don’t prohibit legal work

Press release: Activists call on Boohoo board to give evidence that prices don’t prohibit legal work

  • Prices paid to Boohoo suppliers called into question as potential barrier to legal wage payments and sustainable growth
  • Activists say Boohoo workers could be owed £125 million in unpaid wages for former illegal pay cases
  • Boohoo Group AGM taking place today will see key challenges raised

Activists are posing key questions [1] to the board of Boohoo Group at their AGM today concerning the prices Boohoo pays to suppliers, and debts owed to workers.

Representatives from the human rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label will raise concerns about the impact of Boohoo’s purchasing practices on the ability of Leicester factory owners to operate legally, turn a profit and invest in their factories.
 
Citing Boohoo’s statements on ‘fair pricing’ for suppliers, activists are requesting that Boohoo publish details of the benchmarks they are using, and whether these prices ensure the minimum wage, or indeed the living wage, is payable under the standards.
 
Questions follow clear evidence that illegal pay of £3.50 / £4 an hour was common in Boohoo suppliers, linked to prices [2]. Evidence is being requested from the board that this situation has been addressed, particularly with regard to aggressive downward pressure on supplier prices.
 
Historic debts owed to workers from Boohoo supplier factories following years of underpayment of the minimum wage are also being raised. Activists say Boohoo could owe over £125 million in illegal underpayment of wages to workers who made their goods over the past 5-year period. The estimate is based on calculations from the British Retail Consortium that garment workers in Leicester at the peak of the illegal pay exposes were collectively being denied £2.1m a week [3].
 
Kaenat Issufo from Labour Behind the Label said: “Mahmud Kamani and the Boohoo board of directors need to own up to truth that Boohoo’s business model has driven abusive practices in its supply chain. Owning up means changing its purchasing practices, and making right the past wrongs that its business has created. Boohoo should pay the workers making its clothes a living wage and payback the millions in underpaid wages it owes to the workers who created Boohoo’s profits over the past ten years. It’s current approach of giving charity is demeaning and the community where I live is suffering as a result. Workers need rights not handouts.”
 
Some further details being requested concerning the brand’s commitment to building sustainable relationships with Leicester suppliers in the light of recent withdrawals from over 100 suppliers in the city [4].
 
ENDS

Notes to editors: 

  • Labour Behind the Label is a campaign that works to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry.
  • The Boohoo Group PLC Annual General Meeting is being held at Boohoo’s factory at 301 Thurmaston Lane, Leicester, LE4 9UX on Friday, 17 June 2022 at 14:00

[1] https://labourbehindthelabel.org/boohoo-group-plc-agm-questions-2022

[2] Allison Levitt QC who was commissioned to conduct an internal investigation in allegations of illegal pay in  Boohoo Group suppliers found illegally low rates of pay at £3.50/ £4 per hour to be substantiated, and that directors knew of the seriousness of the issues but failed to act. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/25/boohoo-report-reveals-factory-fire-risk-among-supply-chain-failings
 
[3] In 2020, the British Retail Consortium calculated that workers in Leicester were being underpaid £2.1m a week. https://www.thebusinessdesk.com/eastmidlands/news/2041936-leicester-textile-workers-owed-over-27m-says-report.
This had grown from 2015 estimates, where Unversity of Leicester research put this underpayment at around £1m a week. https://amp.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/2015/feb/27/made-in-britain-uk-textile-workers-earning-3-per-hour
 
Boohoo was sourcing 50-80% of Leicester’s total output between 2015 and 2021. It is therefore a conservative estimate to assume that £50m in underpayment of wages per year, should result in Boohoo owing £125m in over a 5-year period.
 
[4] https://www.cityam.com/boohoo-cuts-ties-with-hundreds-of-suppliers-following-leicester-factory-scandal/

Media contacts:  

Boohoo Group PLC AGM Questions 2022

Questions to the board of Boohoo Group PLC
AGM date: 17th June 2022
Venue: 301 Thurmaston Lane, Leicester, LE4 9UX
Time: 14.00

Question 1 on repayment of wages to Leicester workers

My name is Dominique Muller, I’m from Labour Behind the Label, and my question today is about the historic wage debt owed to workers by Boohoo group. As you are aware, Boohoo has been at the centre of investigations surrounding illegal pay for many years, with media exposes from 2018 and 2020 causing the company to initiate investigations. Allison Levitt QC found allegations of illegally low rates of pay to be substantiated, and that directors knew of the seriousness of the issues but failed to act. £3.50 / £4 per hour rates were paid to workers making Boohoo clothing – this is not a disputed fact. Many worked in suppliers selling only to Boohoo. The issue of whose responsibility it is to repay the debt owed to workers who received these wages however remains unresolved. In 2015 ETI estimated that Leicester garment workers were underpaid around £1 million per week while in 2020, the British retail Consortium estimated that workers were owed around £27 million underpaid wages in three months alone. A conservative total then is around £50 million underpaid to Leicester garment workers each year – given that Boohoo bought 50-80 % of Leicester’s garment production in the last decade, workers who supported Boohoo’s profit margins could be owed around £125 million for the past five years.

If Boohoo is committed to ensuring its supply chain operates legally in the UK, will it ensure workers are paid back, in full, for the underpayment of the minimum wage that has been the basis of much of its margin for a number of years? Will it be creating a fund to pay back workers for the illegal wages?

Regardless of whether or not illegal wages are still being paid at Boohoo suppliers in Leicester, , the ongoing impact of Boohoo’s historic purchasing practices in Leicester suppliers should also be acknowledged. There remains an entrenched way of working where Leicester suppliers pay illegal wages and cut corners on HR and safety to compete for the low prices that buyers assume can be met in factories in this city. What is Boohoo doing to ensure it changes this, and sets an example of transparent pricing that encourages payment of a living wage, compliance and business growth?

 

Question 2 on prices paid to suppliers prohibiting sustainable practices

My name is Kaenat Issufo, I’m from Labour Behind the Label and work as the Leicester garment worker engagement lead. My work involves supporting local workers and I’m in contact with a lot of local suppliers who face continued low prices and precarious contracts. My question today is about Boohoo’s impact on business in Leicester, the prices it pays and what it is doing to support the long-term improvement of factories.

Boohoo plays a huge role in influencing how prices are set in factories here, as at least 40% of the products sourced from Leicester are for Boohoo, and many of the other brands who do business here are its price competitors. The prices that Boohoo pays to suppliers – like many other brands – are very low and over the years prices have stayed low because Boohoo keeps them there.

Boohoo stated that it has developed a series of responsible purchasing practices including paying a ‘fair price’ to suppliers. However there are no clear details for these practices and no clear benchmarks for what exactly is a fair price. I want to ask, what exactly is Boohoo doing to make sure that its prices will enable the payment of a living wage to workers in the UK? Are prices enough to allow suppliers to operate legally, turn a profit and invest in their factories in order to create a sustainable industry?

Boohoo have also pulled out of lots of Leicester suppliers in the past year leaving factories with no business. What is Boohoo doing to make sure it supports suppliers in the long run to build their businesses, work with suppliers to improve wages and support the growth of a sustainable garment industry in Leicester?