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New investigation claims Boohoo breaks past promises of fair production

By Rachel Douglass


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Barbie x Boohoo collection Credits: Boohoo

A new undercover investigation into Boohoo’s production practices has found evidence that the fashion giant is breaking its previous promises of fair and ethically-produced clothing, despite having claimed to have carried out an overhaul of its operations.

The fast fashion conglomerate became the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation, during which a reporter went undercover at Boohoo’s Manchester headquarters, where she worked as an admin assistant over the course of 10 weeks.

Emma Lowther reported her findings in both an article and a documentary aired on BBC Iplayer, highlighting her time among Boohoo’s buyer team where she said she saw staff under “constant pressure to drive prices lower and lower”.

Concern was particularly centred around the treatment of suppliers, who were often at the centre of demands to cut prices, occasionally for orders that were already made and ready for delivery. Specified instances included a job to process a 5 percent cut on more than 400 already agreed orders and a complaint from a supplier that said a 10 percent discount had been applied which it hadn’t agreed to.

Lead times were also called into question, with Boohoo understood to have cut its average 10 week lead time to six weeks or under during Lowther’s time at the company. In addition to this, Boohoo also introduced a 5 percent price cut for every week a supplier’s order was late.

Lead times, supplier cuts and involuntary overtime

In response to the report, Boohoo’s lawyers said that its lead times were not unrealistic and noted that it was standard practice to have late delivery penalties that are discussed with suppliers.

Lowther also highlighted that Boohoo’s recently opened Leicester flagship factory, promoted during its launch as a centre of excellence, was actually not the pinnacle of the group’s supply chain. Instead, orders were being made at seven factories in Morocco, as opposed to just four in Leicester.

Lawyers for the company stated that the UK flagship only made 1 percent of Boohoo’s garments, and was initially established to “support the group in several ways”, with its role having evolved over time.

Furthermore, secret filming by BBC Panorama at another supplier, MM Leicester Clothing, revealed that employees were sometimes told they needed to work late, despite each factory having signed a code of conduct that cites that overtime should be voluntary. Boohoo told the media outlet that the factory was “subject to regular audits” and that any breach of its code of conduct would be taken “extremely seriously”, with Panorama’s claims now under investigation.

The BBC’s insight comes three years after Boohoo faced a similar report carried out by The Sunday Times, which claimed there was evidence of poor working conditions and illegal wages at some of its suppliers in Leicester.

Boohoo subsequently launched an independent review of its UK supply chains, during which it said it found “many failings” that led it to cut ties with a number of suppliers and launch its ‘Agenda for Change’ programme. While at the time it had set about making promises of paying suppliers fairly and upping the quality of its work environments, the group continued to be the centre of criticism over the years, with a slew of additional reports unveiling more issues with workers rights among its supply chain.

Now, with this latest scandal, eyes once again fall on Boohoo’s alleged malpractices, in spite of the work it said it has done to incite positive change. Responding to BBC’s claims, the company said it had invested “significant time, effort and resource into driving positive change” across “every aspect” of the business, and had made improvements in its corporate governance and ethical and compliance obligations.

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Supply Chain
Workers Rights