A new report claims Boohoo could be behind Leicester’s coronavirus surge

The fast fashion giant’s demand for stock allegedly forced factory workers to work through lockdown

Boohoo has come under scrutiny amid claims the Leicester factories that manufacture a vast number of its garments remained open and illegally working at full capacity throughout the UK lockdown. According to a new report published by rights group Labour Behind The Label, workers in the factories that supply a number of British fast fashion brands – including Boohoo and sister label Pretty Little Thing – were put at risk of contracting COVID-19 in unsafe conditions, which did not offer adequate ventilation or enough space to allow employees to social distance. 

In addition to this, the report claims that workers who developed coronavirus symptoms were told to continue working or else risk losing their jobs, with those who tested positive for the disease encouraged not to tell their colleagues. Numerous other employees spoke of furlough fraud, being denied pay while observing government-mandated isolation periods, and a lack of PPE and sanitising stations. It is also believed that cramped conditions in many of the factories could be linked to a surge of infections in Leicester, where residents are preparing to enter a second round of lockdown as the rest of the UK begins to open up. 

In response to the Labour Behind The Label report, Boohoo told the Financial Times it had “closely followed and adhered to all aspects of the guidance provided by the government”, adding that chief executive John Lyttle and senior management had been: “in constant contact with suppliers (including) video inspections and constant reiteration of our expectations on social distancing and hygiene measures.” Though it did not comment on the rise in infections in Leicester and whether they could be linked to its suppliers, the brand stated it would begin looking into the claims outlined in the report with immediate effect. 

Leicester’s textile and garment industry has repeatedly come under fire for forcing staff to work in sweatshop-like environments, with numerous documents released over the last few years detailing the troubling and inhumane working conditions of its ‘dark factories’. A 2018 report, also published by the Financial Times, found that some employees working extensive shifts in unsafe buildings were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour – over £5 less than the UK minimum wage of £8.72. 

Boohoo has reportedly placed orders for 400,000 garments per week during lockdown, and the label’s share prices have rocketed since March as competitors shuttered in the face of coronavirus – the result being a hefty £150 million bonus going into the pockets of its founders and a number of top execs. You truly love to see it.

We have reached out to Boohoo for further comment.

UPDATE (July 2, 2020): Boohoo responded with a statement reading: 

“As a group, we continue to stand alongside our suppliers, paying them promptly with industry leading payment terms for all of their orders. Since the onset of coronavirus we have had to fundamentally change the way that we operate. Every decision we have made has had the safety and wellbeing of our people at its heart. Whilst government guidance has permitted on-line businesses to keep operating, we would only have continued to do so if we were confident that we could do so safely, this includes our supply chain.

The safety and wellbeing of everyone in our supply chain is clearly very important to us which is why in addition to providing access to free PPE and sanitiser to all our suppliers we have been in close contact to provide support and ensure compliance. None of our suppliers have been affected at this time and we are pleased that our in-house compliance team have been able to resume their work.  Our third party auditors are also out visiting sites this week.

We have a strict supplier code of conduct, which at times like this are more important than ever, and we would not hesitate to take action if any standards are not met.”