Boohoo defends working conditions at its Burnley site
Boohoo has been committed to transparency since the controversies of 2020. It would therefore be difficult for the British group not to respond to the accusations that the group believe to be blown out of proportion. Contacted by FashionNetwork.com, the structure said it was starting a procedure with the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) against The Times' accusations, for which the brand can advance material evidence.
An article published on Wednesday, November 23 by The Times denounces the working conditions and pay in one of the company's logistics centres located in Burnley, in the north-east of England. A place where Boohoo says it has been operating for twelve years now, and which has gradually grown to employ some 2,500 people.
Among the points on which Boohoo intends to counter-attack is first of all the very low salary which the journalist, undercover for a month, says he was paid. "When he called me, the journalist told me he was paid 10 pounds an hour. I said that's impossible," said Cheryl Chung, the group's corporate affairs director. In the end the published Times article stated he received 11 pounds, compared to the legal minimum wage of 9.5 pounds and the living wage of 10.50 pounds.
The article also points out the sometimes dangerous expectations the company has of its workers. On this point, Boohoo tells us that its targets are established through field studies and are regularly reviewed according to the standards of the BSI (British Standards Institution). As for the "regular" ambulance calls noted by the journalist on the site, Boohoo indicates that they occur at an average rate of once a month, for cases including epileptic seizures or vagal discomfort.
Distance and heat
On the subject of working conditions, the company formally denies that the journalist walked a distance of 20 kilometers in a single work session. Boohoo claims that he walked a maximum of 13.3 kilometers (8.3 miles) in one day. This data is apparently based on readings from a wrist device given to each employee. Using this data, Boohoo believe that the average distance per employee is 7.3 miles, and that this daily distance sometimes goes down to 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers).
"Whether you're ordering a product or a meal, there's always someone who has to pick it up, unless we automate everything and people lose their jobs," says Cheryl Chung. "What's implicit (in this article) is that walking into a warehouse is dehumanizing. Which I find incredibly insulting to the great work that people do without whom our business could not run."
Boohoo also responded to the journalists claim to have suffered from high heat during his time in the warehouse. The company recalls that it was the hottest August on record in the region. Rotations in the coolest areas of the warehouse were apparently organised, while water fountains and bottles of cool water were available free of charge, says the group.
Boohoo and the criticism of fast-fashion
Like the Chinese Shein, Boohoo and its sister brands such as Karen Millen, Nasty Gal, PrettyLittleThing, Coast, MissPap, Oasis and Burton among others, is carrying the growing criticism against fast-fashion on its shoulders. An offer which is renewed regularly at a fast pace and to which Boohoo has a specific approach: small series productions of about 200 pieces.
This approach is specifically designed to avoid the risks of overproduction and unsold inventory, while focusing restocking on successful items. An approach that has enabled the company to generate in its first half year, which ended in August a turnover of 882.4 million pounds (982.05 million euros), a figure 50% higher than those of the same period in 2019.
In the shadow of the Leicester controversy
Cheryl Chung, who we met in Paris in September for the launch of the brand's collaboration with Kourtney Kardashian Barker, knew Leicester would inevitably come up in the conversation. Since her arrival in March 2020 as the group's business manager, the former McDonald's UK communications director has been trying to smooth over controversies around the brand's activity in this central city in England.
In the summer of 2020, an article in the Sunday Times accused the company of violating workers' rights at one of its sites in Leicester. In December of the same year, the company was accused of selling clothes made by underpaid workers from Pakistan. Two controversies that made national headlines. Boohoo will now do all it can to show its transparency, cutting ties with 64 of its subcontractors in Leicester, and finding a new auditor.
In September 2020, the company itself published the results of an independent audit that criticized Boohoo for knowingly turning a blind eye to certain practices. In the aftermath, the group hired a new head of sustainable sourcing from Primark and asked a renowned British judge, Brian Leveson, to list improvements that needed to be made to the company's sourcing. In April 2021, the company re-released the results of an independent investigation showing "clearly unacceptable issues" among suppliers.
As a symbol of the virtuous image Boohoo is trying to build, the project of a model factory and textile laboratory was launched in 2020, in the wake of the controversies. The site finally opened its doors last April. While, on the quality side of the offer, the group has equipped its Manchester headquarters with its own textile laboratory, to better monitor the materials used for its collections. Projects are underway, but the work to restore the group's image is just beginning.
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