Boo For Boohoo- Modern Slavery In The UK

Founded in Manchester in 2006, the exclusively online fast-fashion brand Boohoo is a well-known success story. Originally entering the fashion e-commerce market “with just a handful of staff”, they subsequently rocketed to success as online consumerism exploded, with Boohoo group recently being valued at £5 billion and operating seven fast fashion brands- Boohoo, BoohooMAN, PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal, MissPap, Karen Millen and Coast.

Boohoo’s success was dependent on its promise of fast delivery and cheap clothing. With 40 percent of the clothes being manufactured in UK factories and their ‘direct to consumer’ approach meaning the consequential elimination of the middleman, they ensured that this was achievable.

However, even considering their money-saving techniques, it is hard to comprehend how the company is profitable or even financially possible when selling thousands of clothing items for a fiver or less.

Sadly, the truth may not be as cheap and cheerful as their clothes. An undercover exposé by The Sunday Times reported that factory workers for the Boohoo group in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour. This is less than half the national minimum wage, which is £8.72 an hour for over 25 year olds.

The factory continued to operate as usual during Leicester’s localised COVID-19 lockdown

This non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act of 2015 is often made possible by factories under-recording hours to make is appear as if the workers are being paid the minimum wage. The Home Secretary Priti Patel has since urged The National Crime Agency to investigate Leicester’s textiles industry due to the allegations of exploitation and modern slavery.

Furthermore, the working conditions were a cause for health and safety concern, especially considering that the factory continued to operate as usual during Leicester’s localised COVID-19 lockdown, with no evidence of any implementation of social distancing guidelines or safety wear.

Boohoo experienced a drop in value of over £1bn within two days of the exposure, with many investors or platforms cutting their ties with Boohoo due to an inadequate response to the exploitation claims.

It is unimaginable how much worse the conditions are in countries we outsource to

Despite this being terrible I can’t help but consider the fact that the public is hugely shocked by the fact that there is ‘modern slavery’ taking place in our own country although we are all fairly aware that the only possible way for our favourite clothing companies to be so affordable is through outsourcing to sweatshops in poorer parts of the world.

If companies still manage to exploit workers in the UK where there are more laws in place to protect them, it is unimaginable how much worse the conditions are in countries we outsource to, where we take advantage of more limited worker’s protection laws.

Boohoo itself still outsources to China, India and Turkey and, due to a lack of transparency of the specific factories they source from, we can’t be sure of the exact conditions. It is almost certain to follow the general trend of the global textile industry of child labour, poverty pay, unsafe working conditions, and excessive overtime.

Not only does fast fashion encourage the flouting of workers’ rights to gain the largest profit margin, it is also a massive contributor to climate change and global waste. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discovered that the textile industry produces 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, or 1.2bn tonnes– more than international aviation and shipping combined.

Not only this but it is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually, and create chemical and plastic pollution, with around 35 percent of microplastics found in the ocean originating from synthetic clothing. With so many different styles and cheap items available to us through fast turnover, it encourages a ‘throw-away’ culture that is causing a detrimental environmental impact.

Although only a small percent of clothing returns are defective, often all returns are sent to the incinerator, perfect condition or not

What’s more, each year £5bn worth of waste is generated through clothing returns. Often cheap brands do not view it as profitable to process their returns, and although only a small percent of clothing returns are defective, often all returns are sent to the incinerator, perfect condition or not.

However, there has more recently been a rise in eco-friendly shoppers, causing an increase in demand for sustainable fashion. With this increase in demand, brands are starting to cater more towards sustainable options through recycling or ethical vegan lines and increasing the transparency of the brand to reveal their inner workings.

I’m no saint, but there are many ways in which we, as consumers, can shop more sustainably. Take a look around your local charity shops and have a go at upcycling. Refashion old pieces into new, buy used clothes on market places like depop, rent clothes from websites for special occasions, demand transparency and better conditions from clothing manufacturers and wear your clothes more often before considering buying new ones.

If we doubled the amount of time we kept clothes for, we would cut our fashion emissions by 44 percent– and buy more from sustainable brands by looking into their processes, whether the fabric is organic and how they are made or where they are sourced from. Ultimately, it is up to us as consumers to decide the route we want fashion to take, as with demand, comes change.

Alice Whelan

Featured image courtesy of  Lauren Fleishmann via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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