Home Secretary Priti Patel has written to Manchester-headquartered fast fashion giant Boohoo telling them to “step up and take responsibility” for their suppliers.
Last month an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times spent two days packing boxes at a garment factory in Leicester, which were destined to be sold under Boohoo’s Nasty Gal label. He was told to expect a wage of £3.50 an hour.
In a letter to Boohoo chief executive John Lyttle, Patel wrote: “I am concerned that your response to recent reports of labour exploitation in your supply chains appears to be focused on terminating contracts with suppliers found to have breached your code of conduct, rather than on protecting vulnerable workers.
“I would expect Boohoo to work with its suppliers to ensure that workers are protected and remediated.”
The Home Secretary also demanded that the company “increase public transparency” in its supply chains to “regain public trust”.
“Many fashion brands have published the names, addresses and ‘supply chain role’ of their direct suppliers to enable effective public scrutiny of their supply chains,” she added.
Patel has ordered the National Crime Agency to investigate modern slavery in Leicester’s clothing factories. In the letter, she said she expected Boohoo to “fully co-operate with law enforcement”.
In response, Boohoo said: “The Boohoo group has updated the home secretary and others on the steps we have taken following reports of malpractice in the Leicester garment industry. These steps include commissioning a comprehensive independent review of our UK supply chain [led by Levitt].
“We welcome the comprehensive response from the home secretary and the recognition of how seriously we are treating the allegations and we look forward to sitting down with the home secretary following completion of the independent review to discuss how government and industry can act together to ensure that Made in Britain is a label of pride for all.”
Boohoo denied allegations that some of its suppliers were paying staff less than the minimum wage, but ended contracts with two suppliers that had not followed its code of conduct.
The company, which saw more than £1bn wiped off its value in the wake of the scandal, also launched an “immediate” independent review of its UK supply chain, led by Alison Levitt QC.