Fast-fashion giant Boohoo defends business practices after report says its suppliers put workers at risk of COVID-19 infection

Boohoo Plc owns Pretty Little Thing, Karen Millen, and Nasty Gal, among other brands. REUTERS/James Akena
  • Boohoo defended its business practices in a statement on Thursday, July 2, after a report said that factories supplying its clothing in Leicester were putting workers at risk of COVID-19.
  • In the report, factory workers said they were asked to work with “little to no” social distancing or personal protective equipment (PPE). Some that tested positive for COVID-19 said they were told to continue working, the report said.
  • In a statement, Boohoo said it “does not tolerate any incidence of non-compliance especially in relation to the treatment of workers” in its supply chain. It also said PPE and hygiene products were made available to suppliers.
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UK fast-fashion powerhouse Boohoo has defended the way it has monitored its supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic, after a report from a workers’ rights group alleged factories in Leicester producing clothing for Boohoo were putting workers at risk of catching COVID-19.

The group behind the June 30 report, Labour Behind the Label (LBL), said it had unearthed “lockdown breaches, exploitation, and modern slavery” in Boohoo’s supply chain in Leicester, where many of the retailer’s supplier factories are located.

In a statement on July 2, Boohoo said it had monitored its suppliers correctly, and that it “does not tolerate any incidence of non-compliance especially in relation to the treatment of workers within our supply chain.” It has “terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of non-compliance with our strict code of conduct is found,” it added.

A spokesperson would not say whether the company had terminated any relationships with its suppliers during the pandemic.

According to the LBL report, many garment factories in Leicester continued to operate at “100% capacity” throughout the lockdown “due to sustained orders from the biggest brand sourcing from Leicester, Boohoo.”

“Reports from workers indicate serious breaches of lockdown regulations with workers pressured to work with little to no social distancing or provision of PPE,” LBL said in a statement to the press. In addition, it said that workers who had tested positive for COVID-19 were told to continue working in the factories and were asked by managers not to tell anyone else about being infected.

The UK national lockdown began on March 23. According to the LBL report, some workers were pressured to work throughout April to fulfil orders for Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing. Others said the factories were open seven days a week from morning till night and had not closed during the lockdown.

Boohoo said in its statement that during the first weeks of the national lockdown it conducted video inspections of its suppliers’ factories and had reinforced social distancing and hygiene measures.

“We made available sufficient amounts of PPE and hygiene products free of charge to any supplier that needed them to ensure that these were available for their teams,” the company said. “As soon as lockdown restrictions were eased, our compliance team and third party compliance specialists immediately resumed on-site auditing.”

On June 30, the UK government imposed a local lockdown in Leicester after a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

Demand surges during the pandemic

While brick-and-mortar chains in the UK have struggled over the past few months, their doors remaining closed for weeks on end, sales for many e-commerce retailers have boomed. Boohoo has been one of the main beneficiaries of this shift.

Boohoo Plc, which owns Pretty Little Thing, Karen Millen, and Nasty Gal, reported a 45% increase in sales in the most recent quarter, which was well above analysts’ expectations and proof that the company wasn’t only surviving during the pandemic, but thriving.

This demand has meant that its factories and warehouses are under pressure to keep up with new orders.

In April, The Guardian reported on issues at Boohoo’s own fulfillment centres where workers said it was “practically impossible” to maintain social distancing and still be able to meet their hourly targets. A local politician said at the time that he had received 32 complaints from warehouse workers at its Pretty Little Thing brand.

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