Boohoo has apologised after a damning report found “endemic” problems across Leicester garment factories in its supply chain, where workers faced serious health and safety violations, including life-threatening fire risks, and were paid less than the minimum wage.
The independent review, which was commissioned by Boohoo but conducted by Alison Levitt QC, found unacceptable working conditions, where some cramped factories had fallen into disrepair and had no open fire escapes.
“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,” Levitt said.
Her report also found that employee rights were ignored and neglected on a wide scale. Many were not entitled to paid holidays or sick pay, faced “excessive” working hours and were paid less than the national minimum or living wage.
“It is more likely than not that these conditions exist across the best part, if not the entirety, of Boohoo’s Leicester supply chain. The problems we have described are endemic,” Levitt said.
“I have concluded that, in truth, Boohoo has not felt any real sense of responsibility for the factory workers in Leicester and the reason is a very human one: it is because they are largely invisible to them. It is hard for people to empathise with the plight of those of whom they know little.”
However, the report said there was no evidence that Boohoo had committed any criminal offences.
Boohoo apologised and said the report raised “significant and unacceptable issues” and made for “uncomfortable reading.”
A company spokesperson said: “Ms Levitt’s findings clearly demonstrate that we have not matched up to the high expectations we set for ourselves. We would like to apologise to those who have been affected, especially those working in the Leicester textile industry.”
Boohoo listed a number of actions it was taking in response, including engaging with new ethnical and sustainable suppliers, extending its independent auditing programme and annually publishing a list of audited suppliers in the UK.
It also committed to launching and funding a garment and textiles community trust to help support workers’ rights in Leicester and said it would take disciplinary action against anyone placing orders with unapproved suppliers.
“As a board, we recognise that we need to rebuild confidence that these matters will be dealt with appropriately and sensitively, and that they will not recur,” Boohoo’s chief executive, John Lyttle, said.
The Levitt report concluded that the retailer did not deliberately allow factory workers in Leicester to operate in poor conditions for low pay and did not intentionally profit from them. “I do not accept that Boohoo’s business model is founded on exploiting workers in Leicester,” Levitt said.
It has concentrated on revenue generation sometimes at the expense of the other, equally important, obligations that large corporate entities have.
On occasions it has failed to appreciate that with the enormous advantages of being a publicly listed company come responsibilities, one of which is on all occasions to act in the best interests of all the shareholders.
Boohoo shares were up 14% in morning trading at 370p.