‘Greenwashing’ Boohoo Hosting Ethical Fashion Talk at UK’s … – Sourcing Journal
Boohoo Group is trying to link its image to sustainability, not sweatshops.
On Feb. 14, the Manchester-based fast-fashion giant will host the ethical fashion panel “Fashion’s new ‘must have’: Ethical clothing starts with industry collaboration” at Source Fashion, a sustainable sourcing show in the United Kingdom.
During the conversation, five Boohoo executives will discuss how apparel brands and retailers are responding to the demands of conscious consumers and the importance of being known as an “ethical fashion brand”—with a healthy supply chain—to increase customer loyalty and improve brand reputation.
“With a hard-hitting content schedule designed to tackle the industry’s most important issues, I’m excited to welcome Boohoo to the stage as they highlight the increased importance of ethical sourcing in their business strategy,” said Suzanne Ellingham, director of sourcing at Source Fashion.
But is it possible for fast fashion and ethical sustainability to co-exist in the same breath?
This isn’t Boohoo’s first attempt to push a sustainable narrative.
In November, the fashion e-tailer announced Kourtney Kardashian Barker as its newest ambassador, with “a focus on sustainability.”
As the newest face of Boohoo, the reality TV star was put in charge of shepherding two capsule collections, which she helped create “in tandem with a journey of investigation into opportunities for creating a more sustainable fashion future,” said Boohoo, whose parent company also owns brands including Karen Millen, MissPap, Nasty Gal and PrettyLittleThing.
However, social media did not take well to the news. In fact, many critics cited the Kardashians’ well-documented excesses, including their “jet-setting” and “water-budget-exceeding” ways in drought-stricken California. Others pointed out that Boohoo was “basically a fossil-fuel brand” since its clothes are full of petrochemicals.
“While most people would be more likely to elect the private-jet owning, drought-order defying celebrity as Queen of Overconsumption, Boohoo has made the head-scratching choice of appointing her their sustainability ambassador,” George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at the Changing Markets Foundation—a corporate watchdog group—told Sourcing Journal when the collaboration was announced. “The announcement comes with little in the way of detail about how this new collection will be sustainable, how the brand is addressing working conditions, their over-reliance on fossil-fuel derived fibers, overconsumption, durability, waste—the list goes on.”
The Kardashian-Barker x Boohoo collab debuted about a month after the company—along with UK-based retailers Asos and George at Asda—was investigated for misleading its customers about the eco-friendliness of its clothing, footwear and accessories.
If the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), U.K.’s antitrust watchdog, finds that Boohoo violates the Green Claims Code—which requires that businesses back up environmental claims on goods and services—the regulator could “take enforcement action” by requiring the companies to change their behavior. In a worst-case scenario, it could take them to court.
“People who want to ‘buy green’ should be able to do so confidently that they aren’t being misled,” Sarah Cardell, interim chief executive of the CMA, said at the time. “Eco-friendly and sustainable products can play a role in tackling climate change, but only if they are genuine.”
In response, Boohoo said it would work “collaboratively” with the CMA, and is “committed to providing its customers with accurate information on the products they buy.”
Boohoo also has a checkered history with ethical operations in its supply chain.
Following allegations of sweatshop-like conditions at its factories in 2020, Boohoo commissioned an independent review. The findings revealed that the e-tailer knew of “widespread if not endemic” problems across its Leicester, England supply chain, which included numerous life-threatening health and safety violations and pay below the minimum wage.
Led by Alison Levitt, a former legal advisor to the Crown Prosecution Service, the three-month investigation deduced that while there was no evidence that Boohoo had committed any criminal offenses, reports about low wages and unsafe conditions were “substantially true” and the company’s monitoring of the “many failings in the Leicester supply chain” proved “inadequate” because of “weak corporate governance.”
Adding fuel to the fire, Levitt also described filthy toilets, buildings in “deplorable” condition, and “no wholesome drinking water.” She added that Boohoo has “concentrated on revenue generation sometimes at the expense of equally important obligations which large corporate entities have.”
Despite the countless accusations, Boohoo released a Hail Mary statement to save face.
“We have made some mistakes but over the past 14 years we’ve done more right than wrong,” Mahmud Kamani, chairman of the Manchester-based ultra-fast-fashion e-tailer, told a U.K. parliamentary hearing December 2020. “Our business has been growing between 50 [percent] and 100 [percent] a year at the top line level and processes do fall away; what we are guilty of is not putting processes in fast enough.”
Additionally, Kamani said that while he was “shocked and appalled” by allegations of labor abuses, any noncompliance occurred at factories that Boohoo didn’t own or control. “I cannot possibly know everything in this business, but I do know this is a priority in our business,” he added.
About a year ago Boohoo turned the lights on at its new Leicester garment factory that it said would support up to 180 jobs.
“It is more than just a factory, it’s a hub of learning and collaboration, as it gives our own teams the chance to work onsite and an opportunity to see a working factory firsthand,” CEO John Lyttle said in a statement at the time. “We welcome the opportunity to share that knowledge with the amazing education institutions in the city and strengthen our collaborative working relationships with our approved suppliers.”
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