The British online fashion giant Boohoo is in the midst of an international scandal after a Sunday Times investigation last week uncovered serious worker exploitation at one of its factories.
A reporter for the paper spent two days working undercover at Jaswal Fashions, in Leicester, where he found workers were paid far below minimum wage and were not given protective equipment—despite the fact the city is currently at the center of a new coronavirus outbreak.
Vidhathri Matety posed as a student from India and was hired on the spot; another worker told him that since he was working illegally, he was not to tell anyone that he was working there.
Video footage obtained during his time in the factory shows Matety packing garments made for Nasty Gal, a label owned by Boohoo.
Matety was told to expect £3.50 (4.42 USD) an hour, less than half the legal minimum wage of £8.72 for U.K. workers aged over 25; even a foreman that had worked there for five years was only earning just over £5 an hour.
Mahmud Kamano, Boohoo’s boss, is meanwhile set to receive a £50 million bonus this year.
The Sunday Times reports:
My first full day of work on a dilapidated factory floor at the heart of Leicester’s garment manufacturing district began on Thursday with the vaguest of promises: “Depending on how you work,” the boss informed me, “we’ll decide your pay.”
On day two I had a rude awakening to the harsh realities of the sweatshop conditions endured by thousands of workers across the city, which last week became the first in England to be singled out for local coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
After four hours of back-breaking work, humping rolls of fabric and boxes of clothes bearing high street fashion labels such as Boohoo and Nasty Gal, a foreman took me aside.
“You don’t need to drain yourself like this,” he advised me in Hindi. “These motherf***ers know how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts.”
The National Crime Agency will now investigate modern slavery in Leicester’s factories at the behest of Priti Patel, the U.K.’s interior minister.
Meanwhile, retailers including Next, Zalando, and Amazon announced they would remove Boohoo’s clothing from their sites amid backlash from consumers and former Boohoo influencers on social media.
Boohoo representatives said the company was investigating the claims, attesting that the factory in question was not a direct supplier and pledging to terminate their relationship with suppliers violating their code of conduct.
Freedom United’s Executive Director, Joanna Ewart-James, affirmed in a comment to Thomson Reuters Foundation that law and policy must reflect the message that profits cannot come at the expense of people.
“Financial results alone should not be the measure of business success. Consumers should have confidence in widely accepted standards that aim to protect people from exploitation, at worst, conditions synonymous with modern slavery.”
Freedom United partner organization Labour Behind the Label published its own report in conjunction with the Sunday Times investigation, finding that workers at Leicester factories were seriously unprotected by from COVID-19.
We support Labour Behind the Label’s #GoTransparent campaign, which calls on Boohoo to publish their supply chain and be transparent about their working conditions.
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