Campaigners call for US ban on Boohoo products linked to slavery

4 March 2021

Modern slavery campaign group Liberty Shared has called for the US to investigate Boohoo and ban imports of any products linked to forced labour.

The campaign group filed a petition urging US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assess Boohoo’s supply chain and prevent goods which don't comply with the US Forced Labour Tariff Act from entering the country.

Liberty Shared said CBP should identify any “persistence of conditions of forced labour” in the supply chain and examine the effectiveness of Boohoo’s “ongoing corporate governance, risk management and internal controls”.

The move follows evidence of poor labour practices and worker welfare at factories in Leicester supplying Boohoo. 

Duncan Jepson, MD at Liberty Shared, said: “We have sought to show that because of a supply chain concentration in the city of Leicester in the UK, particularly the area of Leicester East, products sold by Boohoo are potentially produced at least in part by forced labor. 

“In addition to the problems in Leicester, reports from Pakistan and Morocco suggest potential labor violations in Boohoo’s suppliers there, though Boohoo have responded to these claims.”

The US Tariff Act prohibits the importation of merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labour.

Boohoo has made efforts to address issues through its Agenda for Change programme after an independent review by Allison Levitt QC, including cutting 64 suppliers, bringing in external oversight, and in-housing Leicester-based manufacturers to reduce risks from subcontracting.

Sky News reported CBP had "seen enough evidence" to launch an investigation, but Boohoo denied being involved in an inquiry and criticised the petition for “failing to acknowledge the extensive action taken” in response to the Levitt report.

A CBP spokesperson said: “As a matter of policy, CBP does not comment on whether it is investigating specific entities.”

A Boohoo spokesperson said: “As of 2 March 2021, the group has not been notified of any investigation by US CBP, but we are confident in the actions that we are taking to ensure that all of the group’s products meet and exceed the CBP criteria on preventing the product of forced labour entering the US (or any of our markets). We will work with any competent authority to assure them that products from our supply chain meet the required standard.

“Over the past eight months we have been working closely with UK enforcement bodies and it is important to note that auditors and investigators who are forensically examining suppliers in Leicester have found no evidence of modern day slavery.”

It added that its supply chain in Leicester, and oversight of it, has been “significantly improved and strengthened” since July 2020, with a focus on “raising standards, and supporting Leicester's workers, workers' rights, and suppliers”.

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