“This is the not the end of a project for us at Boohoo but the beginning of a new way of working with our suppliers," said Boohoo CEO John Lyttle

“This is the not the end of a project for us at Boohoo but the beginning of a new way of working with our suppliers," said Boohoo CEO John Lyttle

UK online fast fashion retailer Boohoo has substantially cut its supplier network following an investigation into its supply chain last year, receiving praise from Sir Brian Leveson for its work so far in his second progress report published today (25 March).

The retail group, which has been trying to repair its reputation after concerns were raised last year about its Leicester suppliers being underpaid and working in unsafe conditions, has published a list of its suppliers.

Boohoo has cut its manufacturer network to 78, operating across 100 sites, from an estimated 500, which included subcontractors. This involves bringing outsourced work in-house to "strengthen oversight and ownership and provide greater protection to workers".

An independent review into Boohoo's UK supply chain in September last year by senior barrister Alison Levitt QC identified "many failings" and outlined 17 recommendations, which led the fashion company to launch an 'Agenda for Change' and appoint retired judge Sir Brian Leveson to provide independent oversight.

Boohoo said it had ceased doing business with manufacturers who were unable to demonstrate the high standard of transparency required, despite being provided with opportunities to address any issues identified in the auditing process. It added that it remains committed to UK manufacturing and growing volumes with "trusted and compliant suppliers".

Bernstein analyst, Aneesha Sherman, says the decision by Boohoo to ensure all suppliers are now tier one is a major change in the company's stance.

"Boohoo has published its UK supplier list, culled dramatically, with a ban on subcontracting. The company also published a supportive letter to the board from Sir Brian Leveson (who is independently overseeing the supply chain overhaul). We view this as another step towards regaining investor trust."

The published list of suppliers will continue to have their operations and standards monitored frequently, including checks on working conditions and overall compliance with Boohoo's Code of Conduct.

Regaining trust

In his second progress report published today, Sir Brian Leveson praised the "determination" of the company in addressing the failings for which it has been criticised and to promote a new way of working.

He underlined that removal from the supply chain is being undertaken responsibly, existing contracts are being honoured, and that no new orders are being placed other than with a supplier who has been approved by the process.

"It is clear that Boohoo is fully prepared to support businesses that operate in accordance with its code of conduct but will maintain compliance oversight to ensure that they do, taking action (including but not limited to removing them from the approved supplier list) where they do not."

Leveson also praised Boohoo for its "thorough knowledge" of UK modern slavery obligations and the policies it has adopted to end the exploitation of workers, and those for health and safety. "Boohoo is alive to the need to ensure that working conditions are compliant with legal obligations generally," he added.

The report detailed the retailer's efforts to monitor workers, including the adoption of biometric verification systems including facial recognition, and new contracts including holiday entitlement, sick pay, and pension contributions.

He did sound a note of caution, however, on the suggestion there may be some 'zero hour' contracts. "It is not difficult to see how that such contracts might give rise to issues concerning the treatment of such workers not least because of the risk to collateral benefits: this is a matter which boohoo should examine and address with real urgency."

He continued: "I am clear that very real progress continues to be made even though there remains some way to go to continue the process on which Boohoo has embarked and then go further to bake the changes that have been put in train into business as usual."

John Lyttle, Boohoo CEO, said: "This is the not the end of a project for us at Boohoo but the beginning of a new way of working with our suppliers. We have faced up to the problems of the past and are now driving positive change in the industry. We want to play our part in rebuilding a vibrant manufacturing base in Leicester, one that offers good employment and great prospects for the workers and the industry in Leicester as a whole."

Boohoo UpFront

Also published today is Boohoo's new sustainability plan 'UpFront', which focuses on areas where the retailer can have the biggest impact on creating more sustainable fashion: materials, design, waste, packaging.

Among its goals is to launch a resale platform and recycling offers for its brands by 2023, and achieve fully recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging. Any plastic used will contain over 50% recycled content.

By 2025, Boohoo says all its polyester and cotton will be recycled or more sustainable, with over half its synthetic cellulosics coming from more sustainable sources. All leather, wool, feather and down used will be sourced in-line with industry best practice, and it will map all raw materials for key fibres.

By 2030, the retailer hopes to have achieved carbon reductions across its value chain aligned with science based targets equivalent to 52% reduction in emissions relative to the company's growth.

In the immediate term, Boohoo is setting up a Garment Workers Trust in Leicester to help champion workers' rights and provide support for vulnerable garment workers, for which it has donated GBP1m. It has also purchased a site in Leicester where it wants to establish a best practice manufacturing facility.

Also on the agenda is the appointment of a sustainable product design director this year and the development of sustainable collections, including the launch of 'Ready for the Future' product lines.

"In addition to a more rigorous supplier management programme, we're improving the systems we use to order, monitor and track our products," Boohoo adds. "All this work will drive positive changes for suppliers, factories and workers, we'll monitor the impact of these improvements and publish the findings."