Boohoo Needs to Come of Age and Instill ‘Made in Britain’ Confidence
What does ‘Made in Britain’ mean to you? For the likes of Fashion-Enter Ltd and many other garment manufacturer’s ‘Made in Britain’ should represent ‘quality’, ‘craftsmanship’, ‘high standards’ and ‘excellent ethical practices.’ However, investigative articles on the poor practices have periodically blighted the industry. The most recent of which was the Boohoo bombshell and its use of highly unethical factories based in the Leicester area.
Recently speaking at a panel event during Make it British Live! Online, Fashion-Enter’s CEO Jenny Holloway responded to the question – ‘Does this damage the reputation of UK’s garment manufacturing sector?’ She responded; “of course it does, it really hurts, particularly when there are so many of us working around the clock to ensure we endorse the very best in compliance and ethical practices.”
Since The Sunday Times expose, where an undercover reporter was offered pay of £3.50 an hour for packing Nasty Gal (owned by Boohoo) boxes, factories have been identified by a new multi agency taskforce led by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. Alison Levitt QC was hired by Boohoo to independently review its supply chain practices. Levitt’s report, published on the 24th September 2020, revealed that poor working practices were littered across the brands suppliers along with minimum wage breaches.
In the report Levitt states:
‘I have reached the conclusion that the true reason that Boohoo did not become more involved in monitoring conditions in Leicester was that it saw it as being a lower priority than matters which directly affected the company (such as commercial issues or their own employees). The Leicester workers are not employed by them and so they are not their responsibility in the way that their own workforce is. To some extent this is understandable, but can lead to serious issues of the kind which Boohoo is now facing.’
The report in summary:
+ ‘There is no evidence that the company itself or its officers have committed any criminal offences; (2) I am satisfied that the allegations about poor working conditions and low rates of pay in many Leicester factories are not merely well-founded but substantially true;
+ ‘Boohoo’s monitoring of its Leicester supply chain was inadequate and this was attributable to weak corporate governance;
+ ‘From (at the very latest) December 2019, senior Boohoo Directors knew for a fact that there were very serious issues about the treatment of factory workers in Leicester and whilst it put in place a programme intended to remedy this, it did not move quickly enough;
+ ‘Boohoo ought to have appreciated the serious risks created by ‘lockdown’ in relation to potential exploitation of the workforce of the Leicester factories. It capitalised on the commercial opportunities offered by lockdown and believed that it was supporting Leicester factories by not cancelling orders, but took no responsibility for the consequences for those who made the clothes they sold. However, I received no evidence that the company’s purchasing practices are responsible for an increased COVID-19 rate in Leicester.’
Levitt adds: ‘I should make it clear that there is ample evidence that the steps which Boohoo is now taking in relation to remedying problems in its Leicester supply chain had been embarked on nearly a year ago. They were a product of processes it had itself put in place and not just a reaction to the negative publicity in July and August 2020.
‘My recommendations for the future direction of the company appear in the final chapter of my report but can be summarised thus. If Boohoo is willing to take a different approach to how it both views and interacts with the Leicester supply chain, it has it within its power to be a tremendous force for good. If he chooses to do so, the Chairman could become an icon in the industry and the company he created will go from strength to strength. There is a clear warning here though: unless the Board is sincere in its determination to make Leicester better – to use the language of modern management techniques, to live its values – it is inevitable that these problems will recur, with the concomitant likely effect on its share price. It is time for Boohoo to come of age.’
This frank and forthright report is the wakeup call that the British garment industry needs. At Fashion-Enter the ethos has always been to work together to ensure that the UK manufacturing is associated with quality and that its workers are respected and paid properly for their skills. And as Levitt rightly recommends etailers such as Boohoo do have the power to turn this around and instill confidence in Made in Britain manufacturing.