The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has declined to participate in Boohoo’s independent inquiry into supply chain practices, saying it is not the best way forward to fully investigate the matters.

ETI said the problem is “a supply chain issue that begins with corporate business practices around purchasing and costing, but includes workplace and community exploitation and in this scenario, it is often the workers that suffer as businesses avoid taking responsibility.” It added a questionnaire focused on individual factories and incidents was not the best way to investigate.

Last month online fast fashion retailer Boohoo, which owns the PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal brands, was alleged to be paying its workers as little as GBP3 (US$3.86) an hour in unsafe conditions. A number of retailers ditched the group’s brands from their websites as a result of the claims.

Boohoo subsequently launched an independent review of its UK supply chain and warned it would axe relationships with factories that breached its supplier code of conduct.

“We are working with responsible business members to eradicate these issues throughout their businesses and supply chains in a meaningful and long-lasting manner, but this does mean making significant changes to existing practices. One of those changes will mean assessing whether the price paid for a low-cost item feeds modern slavery. So far, we have not seen a willingness from Boohoo to engage in this process,” said the ETI.

“We have made the decision not to respond to this questionnaire for a number of reasons. Firstly, we do not believe that an enquiry commissioned by Boohoo and paid for by Boohoo can be fully independent. We would expect a wide number of stakeholders who understand the complexities of the UK garment industry to be involved in a truly independent enquiry. Many of those stakeholders have been working for some time to develop positive changes to the industry.

“Secondly, the narrow questions in the survey appear to be designed to focus us on individual factories and suppliers, rather than looking at the business practices that feed this environment. We are concerned that no reference is made to the responsibilities of business set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights which look at the broader influence of a business than just its legal obligations.

“Thirdly, there is no mention of the other locations where Boohoo face criticism, such as Burnley.

“And finally, while we would expect to see transparency with the findings and any final report in the public domain, we would be concerned if names of individuals or workplaces were disclosed in an environment where people regularly talk about being ruled by fear.

“We believe improvement is possible, but are unconvinced that this enquiry will make the required contribution to the wider dialogue needed. ETI is working with many organisations across the sector to bring about long-lasting changes to the UK garment sector, but that will necessitate brands – like Boohoo – changing their business practices.”  

Boohoo did not return a request for comment when approached by just-style.