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Boohoo opens supply chain to customer viewing amid fresh reports of exploitation

By Huw Hughes

9 Aug 2021

Retail

Image: Boohoo

Boohoo is offering customers the opportunity to “look behind the scenes” of its supply chain amid new allegations of worker exploitation at the fast fashion giant.

The British fashion group, which owns brands Nasty Gal, PrettyLittleThing, Misspap, Karen Millen and Coast, announced Friday it would be giving customers the opportunity to “meet the real people who make our clothes”, including fabric weavers, printers, pattern cutters and machinists.

Those interested can email the group giving a reason as to why they want to meet the makers. Successful applicants will then get the opportunity to attend an “all-access day” in Leicester, where the majority of the group’s clothing is made. “We are committed to transparency and this initiative is another demonstration of this,” said CEO John Lyttle in a statement.

“Customers can be confident in our operations and the way in which we are working with suppliers to drive positive change, as we help rebuild a vibrant manufacturing base in Leicester that offers good employment and great prospects for the city and its workers.”

The new initiative comes amid fresh claims of worker exploitation at Boohoo, which has come under fire in the past for poor working conditions and illegal wages across its UK supply chain.

The company launched an independent review of its supply chain in 2020 after an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times alleged that certain factories in Leicester that supply clothing to Boohoo were forcing employees to work while sick with Covid-19 and paying just 3.50 pounds per hour.

The review found “many failings” across its UK supply chain, and Boohoo subsequently launched its Agenda for Change programme in which it set out six steps to enhance its supplier audit and compliance procedures.

As part of that, the group said it would publish a full list of its UK suppliers. The list, released in March, revealed Boohoo had cut ties with hundreds of factories.

But a recent investigation by anti-slavery charity Hope of Justice, reported by Sky News, claims workers are still being exploited in Leicester's textile industry.

A worker at one of Boohoo’s suppliers, who was not named to protect her identity, claimed her boss had found a way to avoid paying employees the legal minimum wage of 8.91 pounds per hour.

More reports of exploitation in Leicester’s textile industry

A payslip, seen by Sky, showed the correct number of hours worked by the employee and confirmed she had been paid the minimum wage. But a second payslip had a handwritten number indicating the amount the employee was expected to withdraw in cash and return to the factory. She has reportedly so far repaid hundreds of pounds.

Responding to the allegations, a Boohoo spokesperson said: “Boohoo is committed to the highest standards of ethical compliance within its supply chain. Suppliers are wholly expected to adhere to these standards, and any concerns such as those raised by Sky News are immediately investigated.

“Since last year’s independent review, the group has repeatedly stated its determination in rebuilding a garment industry in Leicester with a robust, fair and transparent supply chain.”

Just days after the Sky report, a separate investigation by I News also found that workers in Leicester’s textile industry are still being paid below the minimum wage, with some being paid the minimum wage before being forced to hand cash back to their bosses. Workers were reportedly being threatened and intimidated not to speak out about the issues.

The investigation also alleged that the Operation Tacit task force, which was set up last year to clean up Leicester’s supply chain problems, had not resulted in any prosecutions, and that factory owners are in “constant communication” via WhatsApp groups to help avoid inspections.