Following the revelation of Leicester’s factories and allegations of ‘unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers’, the now infamous Boohoo group commissioned an independent review by Alison Levitt QC. The purpose of which was to consider whether the allegations were well founded, consider the extent of the companies monitoring and knowledge of its Leicester supply chain, consider compliance with relevant law, and make future recommendations. The report found the allegations made about the Boohoo group to be substantially true, and stated that the company’s monitoring of its Leicester supply chain was inadequate. Furthermore, Levitt asserts in the report that senior directors were made aware of the mistreatment of factory workers in Leicester back in December 2019, at the very latest and failed to put a programme into place quickly enough to remedy this. Lastly, in relation to the exploitation in Leicester factories, Levitt came to the conclusion that the company capitalised on the opportunity offered by a national lockdown, without taking responsibility for the consequences of this increased demand on its workforce.
In the report, Levitt also reaches some more general conclusions about the company. It is noted that while the Boohoo group’s extraordinary growth is commendable, it has happened at such a rate that the company’s governance processes have been unable to keep pace. Additionally, in Levitt’s view, the company has concentrated on revenue generation at the expense of other obligations and has failed to take responsibility for the conditions in its Leicester factories on anything more than a ‘superficial level’. Going forward, the report recommends that it is time for Boohoo to ‘come of age’, by ensuring supply chain compliance, celebrating the value its factory workforce, and strengthening its governance.
However, the Leicester sweatshop scandal is not the only hot water that the Boohoo group has found itself in. More recently, Pretty Little Thing, who are owned by the group, came under fire for selling items for free on Black Friday. Raising the question of how this was possible without exploiting both workers and the planet. The problem in this situation is the premise of ‘selling’ clothes for free, when clothing costs to make, ship and package. Not only does giving the clothing away completely disregard the work that has gone into making it, but it raises concerns over how much workers were being paid to do so. While such sales may have been a dream come true for many consumers, the reality of it only being possible off the back of human exploitation can no longer be ignored.
Ultimately, the success of the Boohoo group epitomizes the extraordinary growth of fast fashion demand in recent years. The scandals and reports that have surfaced concerning the group represent the other side to this success and highlight the human cost of cheap clothing. While there is hope that Boohoo will come of age, it is crucial that in the meantime they continue to be outed for their involvement in the modern slavery industry and held accountable for their actions.
Alison Levitt QC, ‘Independent Review into the boohoo Group PLC’s Leicester supply chain’ (24 September 2020) <https://www.boohooplc.com/sites/boohoo-corp/files/final-report-open-version-24.9.2020.pdf>
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