UK fashion company boohoo has launched an independent investigation following allegations of poor pay and working conditions at their Leicester factory ‘Jaswal Fashions’, with claims of workers being paid £3.50 an hour.
This follows an undercover investigation by Sunday Times, which also highlighted lack of safety measures regards to coronavirus pandemic.
Retailers including Next, Asos and Zalando have removed Boohoo products from their sites following the claims and the company has seen its market value plunge by £1bn since the allegations surfaced.
Today boohoo announced that it would invest £10m to “eradicate supply chain malpractice” and that the independent review would be led by Alison Levitt QC.
Ms Levitt was formerly legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions who led the 2013 internal review which criticised the decision not to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sex offences.
The company, which also owns the Nasty Gal and PrettyLittleThing brands, has denied any responsibility but said it would “thoroughly investigate” the claims.
In their 2019 Modern Slavery Statement, the Manchester-based company explained: “boohoo group has a zero tolerance approach to modern slavery.
“We are committed to acting ethically and with integrity and transparency.
“We recognise our responsibility to implement sufficient systems and controls to safeguard against any form of modern slavery to continue to protect the rights of workers within our supply chain.”
However, the Sunday Times investigation is not the first time the company has been accused of questionable practises within their supply chain.
In June, workers’ rights group Labour behind the Label published a report on the company and its practises during lockdown.
The report makes claims of exploitation of workers from minority ethnic groups who are made vulnerable to abuse by immigration status, language skills and access to support mechanisms such as union memberships, and that many sites continued working at full capacity throughout lockdown, describing the working conditions ‘almost Dickensian.’
Boohoo has categorically denied the claims made in the report.
Home secretary Priti Patel has described the Sunday Times claims as ‘truly appalling’ and has asked the National Crime Agency to investigate the allegations.
A boohoo spokesperson commented: “This week a number of serious allegations have been made about the treatment of people working in the garment industry in Leicester.
“As one of a number of retailers that source products in the area, boohoo wants to reiterate that it does not and will not condone any incidence of mistreatment of employees and of non-compliance with our strict supplier code of conduct.
“Boohoo remains committed to supporting UK manufacturing and is determined to drive up standards where this is required.
“Where help and support for improvement is required we have and will continue to provide it, to ensure that everyone working to produce clothing in Leicester is properly remunerated, at least the National Minimum Wage, fairly treated and safe at work.
“However, we will not hesitate to immediately terminate relationships with any supplier who is found not to be acting within both the letter and spirit of our supplier code of conduct.
“This includes very clear expectations on transparency about second tier suppliers.
“We are grateful to the Sunday Times for highlighting the conditions at Jaswal Fashions, which, if they are as described by the undercover reporter, are totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace.
“Our investigations have shown that Jaswal Fashions is not a declared supplier, and is no longer trading as a garment manufacturer.
“It therefore appears that a different company is using Jaswal’s former premises and we are currently trying to establish the identity of this company.
“We are taking immediate action to thoroughly investigate how our garments were in their hands, and we will ensure that our suppliers immediately cease working with this company
“Our support for UK manufacturing is not driven by price; in fact, overseas pricing is much more competitive.
“Our international distribution centre is located in the UK and having a local supply base enables shorter lead times and supports our agile business model.
“In 2019, we retained the services of a third party compliance specialist to strengthen our compliance and auditing programme.
“Boohoo are keen and willing to work with local officials to raise standards because we are absolutely committed to eradicating any instance of non-compliance and to ensuring that the actions of a few do not continue to undermine the excellent work of many of our suppliers in the area, who work tirelessly to provide good jobs and good working conditions.”