Boohoo’s clothing is not only costing the earth, but is it costing its employees and the consumer?
By Cyrus Jarvis.
Boohoo has become one of the U.K.’s most prolific fashion companies over the past decade, popularized largely by Love Island contestants and incredibly low prices. Their brands (Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and boohooMan) have become a go-to for many young British millennials and others around the world who are constantly bombarded with billboards, social media posts, and TV advertisements showing new styles worn by influencers, with the implication that promising that they too, can live and look like them if they shell out a small amount of money $10 (plus delivery fees). Only for the next 7 days, that is, before they’ll have to spend just another few dollars again to keep up.
Boohoo’s popularity extends beyond young British millennials having reached the shores of the U.Ss (where their clothing has been worn by the likes of Kylie Jenner). Brands like Missguided and Boohoo have made trendy fashion accessible to all, taking designs from celebrities, music videos, and influencers, and flipping them almost overnight to be purchased online; as an average 772 garments are added to the Boohoo womenswear website each week. Missguided went as far as to offer £1 ($1.25 USD) bikini sets last year. The problem is, of course, that the clothing is not as cheap as we think.
Earlier last month, The Sunday Times revealed that Boohoo pays a mere £3.50 ($4.50 USD) per hour to the workers who manufacture their clothing. Not in China or Bangladesh, but the U.K., where the minimum wage is £8.72 ($11.15 USD) per hour. Factories secretly stayed open during the government-imposed lockdown and forced workers to continue coming in despite testing positive for COVID-19, while a Freedom of Information request found that ambulances have been called hundreds of times to fast fashion warehouses in the U.K.. The Sunday Times report has grabbed headlines and caused outrage to the point that Boohoo’s shares have dropped by 47% and the company’s brands have been dropped from retailers like ASOS and Zalando. The truth is that allegations go back as far as 2017, when Channel 4 documentary Dispatches found that workers in the U.K. were being paid £3.50 an hour to manufacture clothing for British fast fashion labels including Boohoo. Another investigation by the Financial Times in 2018 found that labor exploitation was rife and that factories ignored employment laws “with impunity.” However, hardly anyone batted an eye at either of these reports until now.
The cases of unethical and illegal workplace conditions were known to those in government too, yet action still wasn’t taken. The journalist behind the 2018 Financial Times investigation was first tipped off by a Westminster official, and gave evidence to Parliament’s environmental audit select committee, whose final recommendations to the government were ignored. When the widespread controversy took hold this month, Boohoo responded, claiming to be “deeply shocked by the recent allegations.” Their claims have been rejected by the parliamentary committee, who say that Boohoo was always aware.
Perhaps Boohoo’s shares will recover. In the meantime, we can look forward to the independent review of Boohoo’s supply chain, which is slated to be ready by September 15th (although Boohoo itself, unfortunately, hasn’t committed to publishing the full report as of yet). Fast fashion’s profits are likely to rise too amidst a pandemic that has resulted in mass lay-offs across all sectors and dug many of us deeper into a place whereby we have no choice but to spend our money at said retailers.