Home secretary Priti Patel has written to Boohoo urging the fast-fashion retailer to “step up” and ensure its suppliers are “protected and remediated” following allegations of poor working conditions.
An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times in July claimed workers at factories in Leicester that supply garments to Boohoo were forcing some to work while they were sick with Covid-19 and paying just 3.50 pounds per hour - the minimum wage is 8.72 pounds for those aged 25.
The reports led to shares of the company plummeting and brands like Asos, Next and Zalando pulling Boohoo’s brands from their sites. Days after the report, Boohoo cut ties with two of its suppliers and announced it would be undertaking an independent review of its UK supply chain.
Boohoo urged to ensure workers are ‘protected and remediated’
But Patel has criticised the retailer’s response to the allegations. In a letter to Boohoo CEO John Lyttle, she wrote: “I am concerned that your response to recent reports of labour exploitation in your supply chains appears to be focused on terminating contracts with suppliers found to have breached your code of conduct, rather than on protecting vulnerable workers.
“I would expect Boohoo to work with its suppliers to ensure that workers are protected and remediated.”
She added: “It is now more important than ever before that businesses step up and take responsibility for conditions in their supply chain.”
Boohoo is currently undertaking an independent review of its UK supply chain led by Alison Levitt QC. The first update of its findings will be shared alongside the publication of Boohoo's half-year results in September.
Since launching the review, Lyttle has also confirmed that Boohoo will be building its own ‘model factory’ in Leicester following the controversy. He told The Mail on Sunday that the company could begin producing its own clothing with a local joint-venture partner as soon as September.
The factory would lead to the creation of around 250 manufacturing jobs either at the new site or at a temporary factory nearby if it can’t be prepared in time.
“Number one: this factory is a commitment to UK manufacturing. But it's also about making sure we can support our growth with a level of in-house production,” Lyttle said. “Inditex have a number of joint ventures in Spain and in Portugal that they work with and that really help their flexibility - it's not dissimilar to that.”
Photo credit: Boohoo