Follow us


Ethical Trading Initiative declines to take part in Boohoo investigation

Lauretta Roberts
26 August 2020

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has declined an invitation to participate in an independent inquiry into Boohoo's supply chain.

In a statement ETI said it questioned whether the inquiry, which is being carried out on behalf of Boohoo by Alison Levitt QC was truly independent and queried why it was not being carried out by fashion sourcing experts.

Its statement read: "Firstly, we do not believe that an enquiry commissioned by boohoo and paid for by boohoo can be fully independent. We would expect a wide number of stakeholders who understand the complexities of the UK garment industry to be involved in a truly independent enquiry. Many of those stakeholders have been working for some time to develop positive changes to the industry.

"Secondly, the narrow questions in the survey appear to be designed to focus us on individual factories and suppliers, rather than looking at the business practices that feed this environment. We are concerned that no reference is made to the responsibilities of business set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights which look at the broader influence of a business than just its legal obligations.

"Thirdly, there is no mention of the other locations where boohoo face criticism, such as Burnley.

"And finally, while we would expect to see transparency with the findings and any final report in the public domain, we would be concerned if names of individuals or workplaces were disclosed in an environment where people regularly talk about being ruled by fear."

The inquiry was launched following a report from an under-cover reporter for The Sunday Times, which found workers at a Leicester factory where Boohoo garments were present, were paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

Boohoo carried out an internal investigation and said that the supplier in question had been sub-contracted by a supplier without its knowledge and that the garments in question had been sent to the site for repackaging.

It said that while it found no evidence of underpayment it had terminated its relationship with the company that subcontracted the work for breaching its terms.

The fall-out led to £1.5bn being wiped off Boohoo's share price and in order to placate investors and the wider market, the company ordered Levitt to carry out the independent inquiry with results due to be published next month.

Prior to The Sunday Times report in July, Labour Behind the Label published a report on Boohoo in which it alleged that workers at its Leicester suppliers were being put at increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

In addition ETI said that the problems in Leicester had been known for a number of years and that it had produced a report on the matter in 2015 in partnership with the University of Leicester, which detailed "systemic" abuses of employment and health & safety laws among some garment manufacturers in the city.

"The volume of production undertaken in Leicester makes it the centre of public attention at the moment, but it is important to remember that other cities in the UK also have similar, albeit better hidden, challenges.

"Tackling these challenges through a questionnaire focusing upon individual factories and incidents in one city is not the best way to take forward a full investigation into these matters. This is a supply chain issue that begins with corporate business practices around purchasing and costing, but includes workplace & community exploitation and in this scenario it is often the workers that suffer as businesses avoid taking responsibility," it said.

ETI added that it was working with "responsible business members" to eradicate these practices in the fashion supply chain, and whether low priced fashion fed Modern Slavery. "So far, we have not seen a willingness from boohoo to engage in this process," it said.

Members of the ETI include ASOS, Marks & Spencer, Burberry, H&M, River Island, Bestseller and Fat Face.

Boohoo is in the process of setting up its own "model factory" in Leicester with a joint venture partner. The factory, which will have the capacity to make 50,000 garments a week, is due to open next month.

Newsletter banner

Free NewsletterVISIT