Boohoo has been accused of putting garment workers in Leicester at risk of Covid-19 infections, according to a report.
The report by campaign group Labour Behind the Labour (LBL) alleged some workers had been told to come into work – even when they showed symptoms of Covid-19 – or risk losing their job.
“We have heard of several incidents whereby workers who had tested positive were told to come into work, and of managers telling workers not to tell anyone else about positive cases,” the report said.
LBL added factories in Leicester that produced garments for Boohoo continued to operate at 100% capacity “with little or no social distancing and provision of PPE or sanitising stations”.
“Workers have reported that furlough fraud is commonplace and that many factories are being pressured to continue production – or even increase it – to keep up with new orders,” it said.
Boohoo has denied the claims and launched an investigation.
The report comes as the lockdown put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus was extended in Leicester after a spike in cases.
It is estimated that most garment workers in Leicester are from minority ethnic groups and around a third (33.6%) were born outside the UK.
“The lack of documented resident status or entitlement to work means that many workers are willing to accept poor conditions in exchange for a job – even one without formal contracts or minimum wages,” LBL said.
Meg Lewis, LBL campaigns manager, said: “Brands must put the health of their workers before profits to ensure safety throughout the pandemic and beyond. This includes putting in place measures such as social distancing, PPE and improved sanitation. It means working with suppliers to ensure that workers who have symptoms are able to self-isolate for 14 days whilst on full pay.”
Brands should also take into account additional costs incurred by keeping workers safe during the Covid-19 pandemic and allow for slower production due to social distancing, Lewis added.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there had been reports of underpayment of Leicester's garment workers and non-payment of holiday pay. LBL alleged wages of £2-3 an hour were reported as commonplace in Leicester factories.
Boohoo disputed the claims, saying it “does not and will not work with any supplier who cannot provide evidence that they pay at least the national minimum wage”.
“The Boohoo group categorically does not tolerate any incidence of non-compliance especially in relation to the treatment of workers within our supply chain and we have terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of non-compliance with our strict code of conduct is found,” a Boohoo spokesperson added.
“As a business, we have invested heavily to ensure that we meet all the guidance relating to self-isolation, social distancing and hygiene standards to ensure that every Boohoo workplace is Covid-19 safe.”
Boohoo said it did “not condone any supplier that disregards the very clear guidance on supporting those affected by Covid-19” and it will “immediately investigate the claims made” in the report.
Meanwhile, Primark owner Associated British Foods revealed it has placed orders worth over £800m with its garment suppliers for the autumn/winter season. The retailer said its total spend is likely to exceed £1bn.
Primark had previously been criticised for cancelling millions of pounds worth of orders with suppliers in Bangladesh.
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