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Boohoo protestors
via Instagram (@venetialamanna)

Protestors storm the stage at a Boohoo ‘ethics’ panel

On Tuesday, fair fashion activists shouted criticism at Boohoo executives before being led away by security

On Tuesday (February 14), Source Fashion, “the UK’s new sustainable sourcing show”, hosted a panel on ethical sourcing practices in fashion, exclusively led by executives from… Boohoo. Even the panel’s moderator, business consultant Cheryl Chung, had worked for Boohoo up until last year.

It’s maddening to think that representatives from Boohoo were even considered for a panel about ethics in fashion – let alone permitted to make up 100 per cent of the panel.

Cheeringly, a group of protestors channelled their frustration at the decision into action and disrupted the event by shouting criticism at the speakers. “How dare Boohoo take this platform to speak about ‘ethics’ and ‘industry collaboration’, when their garment workers in Leicester are paid £3.50 an hour? Why aren’t your garment makers on this panel?”, Venetia La Manna, a fair fashion campaigner, demanded before being led away by security.

“While garment workers make £3.50 an hour, Boohoo’s CEO is set to receive a bonus of 200 per cent [of] his salary,” another protestor said, referring to an exposé from The Sunday Times published in 2020. Reporters found that a Leicester supplier factory for Nasty Gal, which is owned by Boohoo, continued to operate even while Leicester was under local lockdown and paid staff as little as £3.50 an hour. Following the investigation, Boohoo overhauled its governance, cut off hundreds of suppliers and commissioned an independent review.

A separate investigation also published by The Sunday Times in November last year also found that workers in a Burnley warehouse were expected to work and meet punishing targets in sweltering heat. Disturbingly, one worker claimed that Pakistani workers were forced to work in the hottest areas of the warehouse, while white workers could work in the cooler areas.

Speaking to Dazed, one of the protestors, Ronaé Fagon, says she felt it was “important” to disrupt the panel. “Boohoo is currently being investigated by the CMA [the Competition and Markets Authority] over its environmental credentials, including whether the language used by the business is too broad and vague and may create the impression that clothing collections such as Boohoo’s ’Ready for the Future’ range are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are,” she says. “So to have a company currently under investigation be the main headliner for a conversation on ethical cltohing is just textbook greenwashing.”

La Manna adds that they were disgusted by the total omission of any garment workers or suppliers on the panel. “We thought it was hugely hypocritical, considering that [ethical sourcing] was a huge part of what they were going to be talking about. So we decided to go and call them out for their hypocrisy,” she tells Dazed.

“For me, it was all a bit of a blur,” La Manna says, recalling what it was like to challenge the panel of Boohoo execs. “But I’ve seen the video back and it’s made me feel very angry, to be honest. Boohoo is a brand that prides itself on being all for female empowerment, and yet when women call them out for their hypocrisy and stand in solidarity with their garment workers, they sit back and smirk. It was really frustrating.”

“It felt great to be amongst peers who do so much behind the scenes to champion garment makers and stand together in person for protest,” Fagon adds. “However, it was somewhat sickening to see each panellist sitting on the stage smirking as security removed us with unnecessary force, just for highlighting the truth about Boohoo.”

A Boohoo spokesperson said: “We attend events like Source Fashion to share insights from the work we are doing to reduce our environmental impact, embed our responsible purchasing principles and our quality assurance programme. The challenge of sustainability affects the whole fashion industry and no single brand or government agency will be able to solve these problems on their own. That is why it is important that we talk to people about the work we are doing to reduce our environmental impact and why we will continue to partner with other retailers, government and NGOs, through initiatives like Textiles 2030, to find solutions to these shared problems.”