Retail sector union Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) has urged ‘fast fashion’ giant Boohoo to engage with the union to repair their reputation and give a voice to their workers.
The fashion group Boohoo has made the news over the past week, severing ties with over 400 suppliers in a bid to clean up its supply chain in the wake of the ‘sweatshop’ scandal exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company published details of its 78 remaining suppliers following a review by Alison Levitt QC found the ‘fast fashion’ retailer had been working with as many as 500 UK suppliers when subcontractors were included. The review concluded that there were “endemic” problems at the Leicester-based factories within Boohoo’s supply chain, including life-threatening fire risk to workers and pay below the minimum wage.
Boohoo has now banned the practice of subcontracting by its main suppliers, so some of the reduction in supplier numbers is the result of work that was outsourced being brought in-house. However, the reduction is a significant drop as the 78 approved suppliers and manufacturers now operate across just 100 sites.
In a statement, Boohoo said the reduction in suppliers would “strengthen oversight and ownership and provide greater protection to workers”.
Usdaw, the shopworkers and retail sector union has called on Boohoo to engage with them as well as clean up their supply chain. Usdaw represents workers at Boohoo’s warehouse and call centre in Burnley and head office in Manchester, but is not recognised by Boohoo – leaving staff without a voice.
A cross-party MPs’ report into fashion industry sustainability specifically recommended that Boohoo recognises Usdaw as the union for their staff. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said: “We recommend that Boohoo engage with Usdaw as a priority and recognise unions for its workers.” Now the union is urging the company to do so in order to “help repair their reputation and ensure their own staff are treated with fairness and respect.”
Mike Aylward – Usdaw Divisional Officer said: “It is long overdue that Boohoo severed their links with garment manufacturers who exploit workers and reportedly paid as little as £3.50 per hour. The company also promised MPs they would engage with Usdaw, but that is yet to happen.
“It is very disappointing that Boohoo has not made any progress on working with Usdaw since the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found, over two years ago, that ‘the company has, over a prolonged period of time, refused even the most basic level of engagement with Usdaw and appears hostile to the very idea of recognising a trade union.’
“We suggest that Boohoo would go a long way towards repairing their damaged reputation by meeting with Usdaw and engaging in a positive relationship. They need to clearly show their employees, customers and the communities they operate in that Boohoo is serious about becoming an ethical trader.”
Boohoo said it remained committed to UK manufacturing and now ordered a higher volume of goods from Leicester despite reducing supplier numbers.
John Lyttle, its chief executive, said: “We have faced up to the problems of the past and are now driving positive change in the industry. We want to play our part in rebuilding a vibrant manufacturing base in Leicester, one that offers good employment and great prospects for the workers and the industry in Leicester as a whole.”
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