Activists ask Boohoo about living wage for Leicester garment workers | Boohoo

Boohoo will be challenged by campaigners over paying ‘very low’ prices to suppliers and a lack of compensation for underpaid workers in the UK factories making its clothes.

Workers at Leicester factories that supply Boohoo could be owed up to £125million in underpaid wages, as some of the retailer’s suppliers previously paid workers below minimum wage, Labor campaigners have estimated. Behind the Label and ShareAction.

At Boohoo’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday, campaigners will ask if Boohoo will ensure workers are fully reimbursed “for the underpayment of minimum wage that has driven much of its margin for several years. years”.

Campaigners will also seek clarification on what the Manchester-based company is doing to “ensure that its prices will allow the payment of a living wage to workers in the UK, and will be sufficient to enable suppliers to operate legally, to make a profit and to invest”. in their factories in order to create a sustainable industry”.

Boohoo, which this week revealed an 8% drop in revenue in the three months to May, will hold its annual shareholders meeting at a new showcase factory in Leicester to highlight efforts to reform its UK supply chain -United. In 2020, evidence of malpractice emerged after an investigation by an undercover reporter.

The meeting comes after a new investigation found poor working conditions persist at Leicester’s garment factories nearly two years on.

More than half of the garment workers involved in the study, conducted by the The University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab and De Montfort University said they were paid below minimum wage and received no holiday pay.

A Boohoo Group spokesperson said: “We strongly reject any inference that people in our supply chain are paid less than the national minimum wage, and we do not recognize the [historic] figures quoted by Labor Behind the Label referring to the shortfall. When we asked Labor Behind the Label for evidence to support these claims, they did not provide it to us.

The company said it had donated £1.1million to set up a new independent charity to defend workers’ rights in Leicester. It also completed a ‘change agenda’ overhaul of its supply chain practices in February, with progress signed by retired judge Sir Brian Leveson and consultancy KPMG.

“The program included a significant investment in our compliance teams and a tightening of our code of conduct which helps to ensure that the people who make our garments have their workplace rights protected,” the spokesperson said.

“We work collaboratively with our suppliers, sharing best practices and insights so they can grow their businesses and invest for the long term. Our new manufacturing center of excellence in Leicester is a visible demonstration of our commitment to the city.

At a showcase for Leicester suppliers on Thursday, many said they felt the recent survey was unfair and did not reflect a changing industry.

However, several suppliers said brands, including Boohoo, continue to try to reduce order payments, despite rising costs for factories such as soaring energy bills, rising wages and costs. higher fabric imports.

Brands and suppliers at the showcase said the cost of production had risen by at least 15%, but some factory owners said they had been unable to raise prices by the same amount.

A supplier said it lost orders representing 30% of its production in weeks after online fashion site Missguided collapsed and orders were withdrawn from other brands that would not accept the prices offered.

Another said: “Boohoo has changed in a lot of ways and been proactive… There’s a lot more paperwork involved but they still want low prices and that’s impossible to get with the minimum wage going up. “

He said many brands had failed to award contracts to UK manufacturers agreeing to buy a number of garments. “They want to be [as] flexible as possible, but that does not help the supply chain. They do [contracts] abroad but not here,” he said.

Another supplier said Boohoo’s prices were low but they paid on time and tried to support an “ethical stance”.

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Shaista Jakhura of local campaign group Hope for Justice said brands needed to take more responsibility for paying a fair price.

“How can we expect exploitation to be eliminated if there are no good purchasing practices,” she said. “If brands aren’t paying properly and treating manufacturers fairly, what can you expect?”

She said some manufacturers who lost out when Missguided collapsed, or because Boohoo reduced its number of suppliers in Leicester, chose to work for cheap ‘cash and carry’ brands that did not monitor their practices. work leading to “uncontrolled control”. exploitation”.

However, a brand manager at the supplier event said more brands are now considering sourcing from Leicester as there is a wider range of products on offer, improved ethical standards and lead time benefits. fast turnarounds and a reduced carbon footprint.

“The UK can be a fantastic place to source produce if you work with the right people,” said the executive. “It’s better for the UK economy and the environment because you’re not shipping stuff around the world.”

Michael O. Stutler