A BBC investigation led by undercover reporter Emma Lowther claims that despite the fashion retailer vowing to reform its operations in 2020, the company is continuing to place pressure on suppliers to reduce prices even after prices have been agreed.

The BBC says its reporter worked as an admin assistant in the dress department of its Manchester, UK headquarters for 10 weeks, where she allegedly found herself under “constant pressure to drive prices lower and lower”.

A Boohoo spokesperson tells Just Style: “Boohoo has not shied away from dealing with the problems of the past and we have invested significant time, effort and resources into driving positive change across every aspect of our business and supply chain.”

Following allegations of poor working conditions and exploitation at a factory in Leicester during the pandemic, Boohoo launched its “Agenda for Change” programme.

This initiative made commitments to pay suppliers fairly and set realistic timescales for production.

In June 2021 retired judge Sir Brian Leveson said in his progress report that Boohoo has taken the recommendations of its Agenda for Change programme “extremely seriously”.

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BBC accuses Boohoo of cutting prices to suppliers

However, the BBC claims the recent practices witnessed by its reporter contradicted the promises Boohoo made under its “Agenda for Change.”

The BBC suggests Lowther was instructed to process a 5% price cut on over 400 orders on one occasion that had already been agreed upon, which it claims would’ve potentially saving Boohoo thousands of pounds.

The BBC also claims Boohoo introduced a new six-week lead-time policy for garment production with one extra week given to suppliers in China and India.

The BBC says it showed Lowther’s footage to Peter McAllister, executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative and he responded that the shorter the lead times the more pressure there is on the workforce and on working conditions.

The BBC also claims the price cuts came from the very top with the company’s executive chairman allegedly having to confirm all of the new orders made by Boohoo’s buyers.

The BBC claims to have spoken to industry expert Chris Grayer to price-up the cost of making a light brown, mini bodycon dress – with a rouched detail – which Boohoo retailed at £15 ($18.64).

It explains Grayer has spent more than 10 years as head of supplier ethical compliance at UK retailer Next and he suggests Boohoo paid a UK supplier £4.25 for a dress it retailed at £15, with the BBC quoting him as saying: “If I had a factory that was making that [dress] for that price in the UK, I wouldn’t have a business”.

In a bid to showcase Boohoo’s improved ethical practices the retailer opened its own factory in Leicester called Thurmaston Lane in January 2022. Following this it launched a Supplier Hub system aimed at increasing “resilience and control” by conducting more stringent checks on its suppliers.

However, the BBC claims that many orders placed with Thurmaston Lane were being made by seven factories in Morocco and four in Leicester.

Boohoo continues to deliver on commitments

Boohoo’s spokesperson tells Just Style the company has made a number of improvements across its supply chain and the action it has taken has “already delivered significant change and we will continue to deliver on the commitments we’ve made”.

Boohoo lists its improvements so far as follows:

  • Strengthening the ethical and compliance obligations on those wishing to supply Boohoo
  • Regularly publishing our full list of approved global manufacturers
  • Responsibly exiting from relationships with suppliers where standards are found to have fallen short
  • Supplementing audit processes with regular unannounced checks.

In October Boohoo warned its full-year sales could fall by as much at 17% as a result of reduced spending by cash-strapped customers.