Boohoo breaks promises on ethical Leicester manufacturing, says investigation

An investigation by BBC Panorama has said that promises made by fast fashion retailer Boohoo to make its clothes fairly and ethically at its new Thurmaston Lane plant in Leicester have been broken.

Boohoo opened the factory on Thurmaston Lane early in 2022 as part of its Agenda for Change that was meant to show off its new ethical practices after Alison Levitt KC found September 2020 that factories in Leicester were putting workers’ health at risk during lockdown and failing to pay them the minimum wage.

The Manchester-headquartered company has pushed the factory as a beacon of manufacturing excellence offering end-to-end garment production in the UK.

But, while Lowther worked at Boohoo’s head office, an undercover reporter from Panorama said she discovered that claims about Thurmaston Lane being ethical didn’t always ring true.

The programme says that “hundreds” of orders placed with Thurmaston Lane were actually being manufactured in seven others factories in Morocco and four in Leicester.

Boohoo’s lawyers have replied saying Thurmaston Lane only makes 1% of all Boohoo’s garments.

Boohoo said the factory was opened to “support the group in several ways, including manufacturing, printing and training.”

It added: “As in any retail business, the role of our sites continue to evolve over time.”

Boohoo is not alone in using factories in Leicester to make their clothes.

Secret filming by Panorama at one of Boohoo’s suppliers – a factory called MM Leicester Clothing – revealed staff being told they may need to work late shifts with little notice to get Boohoo’s orders completed.

The factory took orders for more than 70,000 Boohoo pieces of clothing between January and June this year.

The Panorama footage shows workers telling bosses they need to go home to feed their families. Panorama says a supervisor later told them: “No-one is leaving at eight, or 10, or later.”

Boohoo suppliers have to sign up to a code of conduct which says overtime should be voluntary.

MM Leicester told the BBC that its normal hours are 8am-6pm and it “never forces workers to stay late”.

Boohoo said MM Leicester Clothing was “subject to regular audits and unannounced checks” simialr to all its factories.

The company added: “We take any breach of our supplier Code of Conduct extremely seriously and are currently investigating Panorama’s claims.

“[Boohoo has invested] significant time, effort and resource into driving positive change” across “every aspect” of its business and supply chain.

The company added that it had complied with all of the recommendations Levitt made in her 2020 review, including “improving corporate governance” and “strengthening the ethical and compliance obligations on those wishing to supply Boohoo”.

Boohoo said: “The action we’ve taken has already delivered significant change and we will continue to deliver on the commitments we’ve made.”