• Home
  • News
  • Business
  • Timeline: Behind Boohoo’s boulevard of broken promises

Timeline: Behind Boohoo’s boulevard of broken promises

By Rachel Douglass


Scroll down to read more


Boohoo campaign imagery. Credits: Boohoo Group.

By now, the ongoing controversies surrounding Boohoo’s supply chain are no secret. The past five years in particular have seen a period of turbulence take hold over the company’s production process, as mounting investigations slowly unveil the slew of seemingly broken promises made by the company to fix what it repeatedly says has not been fragmented. Following a new report by the University of Bath, FashionUnited takes a look back at the scandals, investigations and efforts made to put an end to this cycle of malpractice.

2018 to 2019: The faux fur scandal

We first cast our minds back to what appeared to be the first ‘scandal’ that hit the headlines surrounding Boohoo’s use of faux fur. An investigation by the Humane Society International (HSI UK) and Sky News uncovered mass-farmed foreign fur that was being mislabelled and sold to consumers as fake. At the time, representatives from Boohoo and other fashion firms reaffirmed they had strict no-fur policies in place, adding that they had no knowledge that there had been a breach.

While Boohoo had said it had discontinued trading with a Chinese supplier of the products within a week of the report, as well as claiming to have reappraised its conduct policies to ensure products are thoroughly checked, in January of 2019, Boohoo came under fire for allegedly selling and promoting a faux fur pom pom jumper that was found to have contained real fur. As such, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) condemned the group for “misleading” consumers, upholding the prior complaints of the HSI and banning ads of the product entirely.

2020: The pandemic accelerates discovery of concerning transgressions


Labour Behind the Label report

It wasn’t until mid-2020 when scrutiny really started heating up. And it was thanks to the Coronavirus that cause for concern came to light. A report by Labour Behind the Label found that factories in Boohoo’s supply chain had been telling staff to come into work during a region-wide lockdown. The workers’ rights group said that some Leicester factories overseen by Boohoo had continued to operate sometimes at 100 percent capacity throughout, with many workers stating that despite testing positive for Covid-19 or showing symptoms, they were being forced to work through their sickness. Boohoo vehemently denied the allegations, calling the claims inaccurate, and stating that it didn’t condone any disregard to government guidance.

The Sunday Times reveals ‘modern slavery’

Almost simultaneous to Labour Behind the Label’s report, The Sunday Times also revealed the findings of its own investigation in which it uncovered evidence that factory workers at Boohoo’s Leicester location were paid less than half the national working wage, receiving just 3.50 pounds an hour. As a result, Zalando, Next and Asos all quickly removed the fast fashion label from their websites and called on Boohoo to apply corrective measures.

Boohoo launches independent review

In light of the allegations, Boohoo said it would be launching an independent review of its UK supply chain, investing 10 million pounds to “eradicate” malpractice. At the time, though the group noted that it had indeed found evidence of non-compliance with its code of conduct at two of its suppliers, both of which it opted to cut ties with, it disagreed with some “inaccuracies” in the Sunday Times report, including claims of low pay.

Read more: Boohoo provides more details on independent review

Model factory begins construction

Amid the investigations and review, Boohoo revealed it was working on what it called a “model factory” in Leicester, which its CEO, John Lyttle, said was both a “commitment to UK manufacturing” and a means to support the company growth with “a level of in-house production”.


British government gets involved

Mounting concern surrounding the supply chain operations attracted the attention of the British government, with home secretary at the time, Priti Patel, urging the fast fashion retailer to “step up” and ensure suppliers are “protected and remediated”. Patel criticised Boohoo’s decision to cut ties with suppliers in light of the allegations, noting that she was concerned about making such a move “rather than protecting vulnerable workers”.

Read more: Boohoo enquiry can’t be fully independent, warns Ethical Trading Initiative

The Guardian investigation builds on allegations

Another investigation, this time by the Guardian, reaffirmed speculation that workers were not being paid minimum wage in Boohoo’s Leicester factories. According to accounts by third-party auditors, reports of “critical issues” concerning record-keeping, working hours and wages as little as three pounds per hour, among many other alleged malpractices, had been recorded for four years. In response, Boohoo claimed that the reports were from “a selection of commentary from a limited number of third-party audits that have been completed”.

September to December

Review finds many failures, judge appointed to oversee changes

By now, the results of Boohoo’s investigation were long-awaited, and the group ultimately admitted that it had found “many failings” in its UK supply chain. The review revealed that from “(at the very latest) December 2019, senior Boohoo directors knew for a fact that there were very serious issues about the treatment of factory workers in Leicester” and “whilst it put in place a programme intended to remedy this, it did not move quickly enough”. Alison Levitt, who oversaw the review, concluded that the company “did not deliberately allow poor conditions” within its supply chain and “did not intentionally profit from them”.

Over the course of the latter part of the year, Boohoo said it would make a number of commitments in an attempt to reverse the wrongdoings:

  • Through the launch of a new Supply Chain Compliance Committee, the company set out six steps to enhance its supplier audit and compliance procedure going forward, one of which being the bolstering of its corporate governance through new independent directors.

Other scandals

Money laundering and Pakistan supplier wrongdoing

The scandals kept on coming throughout the latter part of 2020, however. While a BBC investigation revealed that some Leicester garment factories allegedly linked to Boohoo had been involved in a money laundering and VAT fraud scheme, some of the group’s Pakistan-based suppliers had also been accused of paying workers 29 pence per hour when working in alleged appalling conditions. Boohoo suspended one supplier and a factory in response to the report.

Boohoo imagery. Credits: boohoo.com

2021: Transparency push begins but new evidence arises


US mulls import ban

The impact of the growing number of reports begins to become evident early 2021, when news breaks that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says that it is to launch an investigation into Boohoo following the submission of two petitions from a British lawyer. As such, the retail group faced a US import ban in relation to the recent allegations, with the decision to be made on the basis of 11 indicators set out by the International Labour Organisation. Boohoo denied that it had been contacted by CBP and reaffirmed that it was “working closely with UK enforcement bodies” to unveil “any suggestion of modern-day slavery”.

Supplier numbers slashed, publishes list of sites

Following the review, Boohoo said it had cut ties with a swathe of suppliers who it said “were unable to demonstrate the high standard of transparency required”, with the 78 remaining approved manufacturers then named in a published list, a “significant reduction” from the approximately 500 quoted in Levitt’s review.

Alongside this, Boohoo further announced the launch of a new sustainability strategy: ‘Up.Front Fashion Ready for the Future’, in which it set out targets in three key areas: smarter manufacturing of clothes, better terms for suppliers, and a reduced carbon footprint.

Read more: Boohoo publishes list of 1,100 international factories in transparency push

August to September

Boohoo makes transparency push

In an attempt to continue building on this new front, Boohoo begins to initiate a further company-wide transparency push, with its next step being to open up its supply chain to the general public, allowing customers to “meet the real people who make [its] clothes”. Select applicants would then be allowed to attend an “all-access day” in Leicester, in an attempt to give customers confidence in the company’s operations.

Sky News and I News come forward with fresh allegations

While this may, at first appear to be a step in the right direction, at the same time as this announcement, a new investigation by Sky News, linked to anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice, brought forth fresh allegations of continued exploitation in Boohoo’s Leicester textile industry. An unnamed worker at one of the group’s suppliers claimed her boss had found a way to avoid paying the legal minimum wage that required her to repay a portion of her own wages back to the factory. Days later, I News also found evidence of workers being paid in a similar manner.

2022: Investigations continue, creditors begin to apply cuts


Production begins at Leicester manufacturing site

Boohoo’s aforementioned “model factory” on Leicester’s Thurmaston Lane begins production, with the promise of providing on-site workers private medical care and free allocation of company shares. According to the group, the site will also be used to provide guidance to suppliers on how to become more sustainable and efficient.


University study finds more failings in supply chain

A survey conducted by University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab and De Montfort University found that over half of respondents from Leicester’s overarching supply chain were still being paid below minimum wage, while another 55 percent said they were not getting holiday pay. The results underscored the need for further change in the city’s manufacturing network.

PLT Label, premium collection at PrettyLittleThing Credits: PrettyLittleThing


Boohoo becomes centre of watchdog investigation

Piling onto the claims of labour malpractices, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into Boohoo, alongside Asos and Asda, over the company’s “green” claims, with plans to look into whether it was “misleading customers” over sustainability credentials.

Read more: Why the Boohoo and Kourtney Kardsashian collaboration is an excercise in greenwashing


Suppliers begin to see cancellations and credit cuts

Amid reports that the cost-of-living crisis in the UK was hitting Boohoo financials hard, speculation began circulating of the group cancelling orders by suppliers. Following this, it was revealed that a number of credit insurers had reportedly begun to cut cover for Boohoo suppliers, as the retailer continued to report falling profits.


The Times investigates

An undercover investigation by The Times once again found Boohoo responding to further allegations of poor working conditions at its UK warehouses. This time, the claims arose from one of the group’s Lancashire sites, where employees said they worked like “slaves” and were subject to various forms of verbal abuse and sweltering working temperatures. Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Boohoo said that they did “not believe the picture painted is reflective of the working environment” at the location. They added that the company offered “generous rates of pay” with “additional benefits”.

2023: BBC Panorama investigation falls into motion


Credit cuts continue

After a few months of relative quiet for Boohoo, reports once again began to circulate regarding claims that the company was demanding a 10 percent discount from its suppliers in a bid to reduce supply chain costs. An unnamed supplier told the Times that the group “turns all orders produced into losses” and that such discounts were being demanded of both delivered and undelivered clothing. Suppliers took a further hit when it was again reported that credit insurers were cutting their cover even further.


BBC panorama investigation

The year continued to be a quiet one for Boohoo until a damning undercover investigation by the BBC revealed even more cause for concern among the supply chain. In a Panorama investigation, the media outlet found staff under “constant pressure to drive prices lower and lower”, with issues particularly centred around the treatment of suppliers, who were often at the centre of demands to cut prices. Lead times were also called into question, with Boohoo understood to have cut its average 10 week period down to six.

In addition to this, the role of the group’s “model factory” came into question when it was revealed to not be the pinnacle of its supply chain, as it was initially made out to be. Instead, orders were being made at seven factories in Morocco, as opposed to just four in Leicester. Lawyers for Boohoo confirmed that the role of the site had evolved over time, and that it now only made 1 percent of the group’s garments.

Leicester, UK. Credits: Unsplash.

2024: ‘Model factory’ shutters as mislabelling claims drop


Model factory to close

Following the report, Boohoo ultimately opted to close the “model factory”, citing plans to drive efficiency at the business as the cause.

BBC investigation continues

BBC’s revelations didn’t stop here, however. Building on its prior investigation, the media outlet further reported that Boohoo had been removing the labels of goods at the “model factory” and replacing them with ones that claimed the garments were “Made in the UK”, despite having allegedly been produced in South Asia. Boohoo said the misstep was a “result of human error” and noted that it had “taken steps to ensure this does not happen again”.

Cuts ties with suppliers, EAC responds

In light of the backlash, it was alleged that Boohoo had cut ties with a UK supplier and that its CEO, John Lyttle, had issued a letter to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in which he said the company had “absolutely not reneged on any of the commitments” it had made back in 2020. In response, EAC chair, Philip Dunne, noted that BBC’s recent investigation had troubled the organisation, providing evidence that such commitments were not being advanced on. Dunne called the mislabelling allegations “concerning” and added that he trusted the company was taking “urgent steps” to right the wrongs.


University of Bath talks to garment workers

In regards to the various turn of events over the last four years, a new report by the University of Bath looked to dig into the slew of cases and allegations made against the fast fashion group. In the publication, entitled ‘What happened after the Boohoo scandal?’, researchers conducted interviews with employees, manufacturers and civil society representatives in Leicester to outline various experiences following the events in 2020.

The research, which had been funded by the government’s UK Trade & Investment department, found that thousands of workers had been left stranded due to Boohoo moving its manufacturing out of Leicester. Co-author of the report, Vivek Soudararajan, said: “Allegations of modern slavery, which were unfounded, obscured the root causes of worker exploitation, including manipulative procurement by fast fashion brands and lack of labour law regulation.”

Karen Millen
Nasty Gal
Supply Chain