Fast fashion retailer Boohoo has appointed Sir Brian Leveson, the retired judge who led the Leveson inquiry into the activities of the media, to oversee the firm’s overhaul of its supply chain following allegations of poor working practices.
An investigation by the Guardian and Sunday Times found that factories in Leicester were failing to pay workers the minimum wage and were putting their health at risk during lockdown.
A damning independent review, conducted on behalf of the retailer by Alison Levitt QC, found that reports of failings and poor conditions in the company’s supply chain were “substantially true” and criticised the company’s “weak corporate governance”.
Levitt found that Boohoo’s monitoring of the factories was “inadequate”, and called the failure to assess the risk to workers during the coronavirus pandemic “inexcusable”.
Following the publication of the review, Boohoo released what it called its “agenda for change” programme to overhaul its use of garment manufacturing in the UK.
Leveson will report directly to Boohoo’s board and his reports will be published, which the retailer said would bring transparency and independence to the process. Leveson joins other independent organisations, including ethical audit and compliance specialists Verisio and Bureau Veritas, which are already working with Boohoo.
Leveson said: “Boohoo has recognised that it must institute and embed change so that everyone involved in the group’s supply chain is treated fully in accordance with the law and the principles of ethical trading.
“I look forward to providing independent oversight of the Agenda for Change programme and to working with the boohoo team, KPMG and the other independent experts to achieve this, while, at the same time, providing publicly available progress reports.”
Mahmud Kamani, the billionaire co-founder of Boohoo, said that he and the board were fully committed to the planned changes at the firm “with the appointments of Sir Brian Leveson and KPMG bringing independent oversight, additional expertise and further transparency to a programme that will help us on our journey to lead the fashion e-commerce market globally in a transparent manner.”
The wave of negative publicity over working conditions at some of Boohoo’s Leicester suppliers doesn’t appear to have dented shoppers’ enthusiasm for its clothing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The firm reported in September that its sales over the previous six months had soared by 45%, well ahead of analysts’ expectations.
Greg Lawless, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: “Today’s news is another step in the right direction and highlights the need to effect real change at the company, which we believe will be welcomed by independent shareholders.
“We will watch developments closely and look for signs of both improved corporate governance and tangible changes to the operating mode.”