Protests have taken place around the world over human rights violations in Xinjiang © Getty Images
Protests have taken place around the world over human rights violations in Xinjiang © Getty Images

Low price doesn't always mean poor ethics, says Boohoo sourcing boss

5 November 2020

Responsible sourcing practices such as supply chain mapping established in response to Boohoo’s Leicester factory scandal will be key to ensuring its supply chain is free from Uighur forced labour, an inquiry was told. 

Andrew Reaney, global director of responsible sourcing at Boohoo, said it was a “matter of regret” for the firm that it “didn’t move as fast as it should have” to deal with reports of poor working conditions in its supplier factories in Leicester. 

Reaney confirmed that no one had been sacked from Boohoo as a result of the scandal, but said “there was plenty of accountability in the context of all of us understanding we need to do an awful lot more to improve our supply chain”.

Reaney, who joined the retailer in September, told the UK government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the retailer had been acting on its commitments to improve sourcing practices following the Leicester outcry.

The committee was hearing evidence from retailers including Boohoo, Nike and VF Corporation, the parent company of The North Face and Vans, in its investigation into the impact of forced labour in the Xinjiang region of China on UK value chains.

During the evidence session, Reaney was questioned on how the public could be confident it would tackle issues in Xinjiang given its failure to act on compliance in Leicester.

He explained Boohoo was working with an external organisation, Bureau Veritas, to map its tier one and two suppliers which would be “integral” to enable the retailer to ensure transparency in its supply chain. The full list of tier one and two suppliers would be published within 12 months, Reaney added.

“It is continuous improvement. One of the really strong recommendations that came out of the Alison Levitt QC report was the principle of responsible purchasing practices, because there is as much onus on the buying and merchandising teams as there is on the executive team within Boohoo to do the right thing,” he said. 

Reaney added the model factory Boohoo was setting up in Leicester was a practical example of how the retailer was looking to move forward. 

“One of the things we've committed to do is ensuring that every member of the buying, merchandising and design team get to spend time on the factory floor to understand everything from consumption, capacity, costings, efficiencies, so that they themselves have a much more rounded and probably more mature view of the nature of the supplier and the buyer dynamic and relationship,” he said. 

Reaney added he did not “necessarily believe that lower price points automatically result in poor ethics”, but brands can reach a place where it has “trusted and valued partners in place who have their own codes of ethics and conduct that sync with our own code of ethics and conduct”.

“I do think at the same time, all of us as retailers have an onus and responsibility to protect our supply chains, and ultimately to protect and educate our consumer,” he said. 

Sean Cady, vice president, global sustainability and responsibility at VF Corporation, told the committee they should “not be concerned” about whether there was forced labour in its supply chain.

Cady said VF Corporation had been incorrectly listed in a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) over possible links to forced labour in the Xinjiang region, but added the report had since been revised and their name was removed.

He added the firm has “full traceability into the supply chains of raw materials”, from tier one “finished product” suppliers down to the cotton gins and farms. 

“We have 37 cotton spinners that take the bales of cotton and turn it into yarn located in China, and then we can go down to tier four and work with those spinners to understand the origin of the bale of cotton from the cotton gin, which would be a tier four supplier,” Cady said. 

Jaycee Pribulsky, vice president for global footwear sourcing and manufacturing at Nike, said the brand had confirmed with its material suppliers that “there are no spun yarns or textiles manufactured in the XUAR [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region]” in its products and no products are manufactured in the region. 

Pribulsky said there had also been some inaccuracies in the ASPI report on Nike’s relationship with suppliers in Xinjiang.

However, she added the Taekwang Group, one of Nike’s suppliers mentioned in the report, had stopped hiring workers from the XUAR in November 2019.

“In August 2020, a Nike-commissioned third party verified that there are no workers from the XUAR in the facility,” she said. 

Pribulsky addied: “This situation is unprecedented in modern supply chains, and what we have done, as we have continued to understand the reports of the situation in the XUAR, is to continue to conduct ongoing diligence and further strengthen our audit protocols.

“Our further diligence has found no evidence of employment of Uighurs, or other ethnic minorities, from the XUAR elsewhere in our supply chain in China.”

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