Boohoo has been criticised by MPs for failing to take action on claims of exploitation at factories in Leicester.
Philip Dunne, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), said it was “incredible” that Boohoo had claimed to have no knowledge of illegal working practices in its supply chain.
In a letter to Boohoo, Dunne said the EAC highlighted issues in Leicester’s garment factories including workers being paid below the national minimum wage, not having employment contracts, and being subject to intense and arbitrary work practices in its Fixing Fashion report last year.
Issues around worker exploitation had been discussed on two occasions throughout the EAC inquiry’s eight-month duration, Dunne said. In that time, the committee wrote to Boohoo to raise concerns with Leicester garment workers being paid illegally low wages in November 2018.
Boohoo Group’s co-founder and then chief executive Carol Kane also appeared before the EAC in 2018 to discuss its buying practices, and the “links it may have to illegally low pay in Leicester garment factories”.
Dunne added Boohoo had yet to formally recognise trade unions such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and had not signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative, despite recommendations made by the EAC.
“It is incredible that over a year since the committee highlighted illegal working practices in its supply chain, Boohoo has publicly denied any knowledge of what has been happening for years,” he said.
“It is shameful that it took a pandemic and the ensuing outrage about working practices in their supply chain for Boohoo finally to be taken to task for turning a blind eye.”
The criticism comes after it was claimed workers at a Leicester factory making Boohoo clothes were paid £3.50 an hour and were offered little protection to prevent coronavirus infections.
Boohoo said it would immediately investigate the claims and has since ordered an independent review of its UK supply chain.
Another retailer, Quiz, has suspended one of its suppliers in Leicester after it was reported that the factory offered a worker £3 an hour to make clothes.
Meanwhile, campaigners have urged the government to protect Leicester’s garment workers and improve regulation of big fashion brands.
Labour Behind the Label, Anti-Slavery International and Oxfam GB are among signatories of a letter calling for the government to ensure that remedy, including payment of unpaid wages and benefits, is provided to Leicester garment workers who have been “the victims of wage theft, furlough fraud, unsafe environments, and modern slavery”.
“There has been no mention of the provision of practical support for workers, despite revelations that many have been paid less than half of the minimum wage over the past decade. Neither the government nor the responses from Boohoo (and indeed Quiz – the latest brand to cut ties with a supplier over allegations) have offered any remediation to workers,” the letter said.
While the campaigners welcomed the government’s announcement of the establishment of a task force to investigate ‘on the ground’ in Leicester, they added there must also be an urgent independent investigation of the situation of garment workers in factories in Leicester and other high-risk UK locations.
The investigation must examine “brands' purchasing practices which are often drivers for illegal working conditions”, the letter said.
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