It was only a few years ago that U.S authorities were launching an investigation into the slave labor allegations made against fast fashion giant Boohoo. The retailer, with a revolving door of celebrity endorsements, came under fire for allegations of forced labor and wages as low as $4/ hour in its Leicester factories where more than 60% of its goods are made. In response to the allegations, Boohoo launched its own investigation into how their clothing was made and unveiled an Agenda for Change. Most recently that agenda involves a program where customers can view the garment manufacturers to see how their favorite fast fashion garments are made.
This program is designed to give customers a chance to “meet the real people who make our clothes.” But, it does come with setbacks. Interested customers must email why they want to view the supply chain and only a few applicants will be chosen. Also, it’s unclear what changes the brand has made to take responsibility for and remedy the labor allegations. With a program that doesn’t seem built on transparency and inclusion, it begs many to question, is this Boohoo fast fashion at its greenwashing worst or has the brand made real progress when it comes to change?
What Is The Agenda For Change?
In 2020, Boohoo published an independent factory review by Alison Levitt QC. In her report she stated, “I find that the allegations of unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers are not only well-founded, but are substantially true.” The report further states that Boohoo was aware of the allegations since 2019, while failing to take responsibility. She stated, “Their culpability lies not in doing nothing but that they did too little too late.” Her report ended with several recommendations for the brand to take, such as demanding that factories show proof of pay stubs to ensure that minimal wage laws are met.
A significant number of the factories in our sample had unacceptably poor working conditions, which included serious health and safety violations. There is a significant risk of a disaster in the future. I have particular concerns about fire; I have concluded that were a fire to break out in some of the buildings in Leicester it is likely that there would be loss of life.Alison Levitt QC
Elsewhere in the Agenda for Change, Boohoo has published a list of factories along their supply chain along with information pertaining to its address and the number of female and male workers. What the list fails to show is whether or not these factories have been audited to meet fair labor and wage standards.
Another section in the agenda is the timeline. Even though there are milestones such as ‘modern slavery training’ and ‘publishing sustainability report’, neither the timeline or the full agenda go into detail exactly how these changes are taking place. And, neither offer a scale or data to show exactly how the brand has changed.
Has Boohoo Changed?
CEO John Lyttle stated that the tour initiative shows the brand’s commitment to transparency. “Customers can be confident in our operations and the way in which we are working with suppliers to drive positive change, as we help rebuild a vibrant manufacturing base in Leicester that offers good employment and great prospects for the city and its workers.” Yet, the specifics of these changes are still not being shared with customers or the human rights organizations that request them.
Boohoo’s purchasing practices drive labour rights abuses and illegal non-payment of minimum wage – this has not been adequately addressed.
According to a report from Labour Behind the Label, ShareAction and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Boohoo has failed to present evidence that they have properly addressed the labor abuse concerns across their supply chain. While the retailer lays blame on the factory owners, they fail to address the issues of how they play a role as a major customer of the factory. ShareAction stated, “Without confirmation from Boohoo that the price paid to suppliers has changed to ensure workers are paid at least minimum wage and all expected benefits the conditions for labour rights abuses that have persisted for the past decade will continue unabated.” The report also labeled Boohoo’s latest Agenda for Change as nothing more than a “veneer”.
What Does This Mean For Customers?
So, is Boohoo fast fashion? Without a commitment to meeting fair labor standards the answer is ‘yes’. To begin remedying poverty wages, retail prices would have to rise in order to ensure that workers are being paid minimum wage. Yet, in early 2021 Boohoo was under fire again for its payout to workers. This time it had to do with a $208 million bonus scheme that would include its 15 top managers. To date, there is no evidence that suggests Boohoo has repaid the workers who helped build their brand for wages that are below minimum wage. And, there doesn’t appear to be an increase in prices of their products.
For conscious consumers, this means that the brand is aware that customers want to support sustainable brands and the allegations against them. But, without sharing concrete actions for change, it also shows that the Boohoo is slow to progress and act on these allegations to spark changes that would make it anything more than just another fast fashion brand.