BURNLEY-based online clothing store Boohoo has responding to a damning investigation into working conditions in its supply chain.

The company has published an independent report admitting that it benefited from low wages and poor working practices, but claiming it did not do so intentionally.

The report was commissioned in the wake of an investigation by the Sunday Times in July which accused the firm, which runs a major distribution centre in Burnley, of tolerating ‘sweat shop like’ conditions in its Leicester supply chain with workers paid as little as £3.50 an hour without protective equipment.

The new report, commissioned by Boohoo but run independently by Alison Levitt QC, admits many of these failings but claims that the company did not deliberately allow poor conditions to flourish on its supply chain and that the company did not ‘intentionally’ benefit from low pay.

Group deputy chairman Brian Small said: “Although in some parts it makes for uncomfortable reading, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms Levitt on record for her diligent and thorough Independent Review, which we are making public in full today.

“We welcome in particular her clear recommendations, which we accept, and as a board are committed to driving up standards in our supply chain and business practices.”

Ms Levitt’s report has recommended improved corporate governance, refined purchasing practices and giving greater support to the rights of workers aimed at preventing similar breaches from occurring in the company’s supply line in future.

Mr Small said: “The board is also committed to adding further independent experience, increased oversight on matters of compliance and business practices, and adopting higher standards of corporate governance.”

The firm says it intends to implement Ms Levitt’s recommendations in full.

In her report Ms Levitt said: “If Boohoo is willing to take a different approach to how it both views and interacts with the Leicester supply chain, it has it within its power to be a tremendous force for good.

“If he chooses to do so, the chairman could become an icon in the industry and the company he created will go from strength to strength.

“There is a clear warning here though: unless the board is sincere in its determination to make Leicester better, to use the language of modern management techniques, to live its values, it is inevitable that these problems will recur, with the concomitant likely effect on its share price. It is time for Boohoo to come of age.”

Ms Levitt’s report also found:

  • 35 out of 49 companies in the supply chain probed failed a minimum wage probe
  • “Serious health and safety violations” at some suppliers
  • There were poor conditions “across the best part, if not the entirety” of Boohoo’s supply chain in Leicester
  • Authorities contributed to the problem by not taking action
  • Boohoo only had one compliance officer to monitor all 500 suppliers and subcontractors in Leicester
  • Chief executive John Lyttle and other senior staff were sent an email in December 2019 describing one factory as having “the worst working conditions that I have seen in the UK”
  • There is no evidence that Boohoo has committed any criminal offences
  • Co-founder Carol Kane may have provided inaccurate information to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee