In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appeared online fast fashion retailer Boohoo has been thriving while some of its factories based in Leicester remained open illegally, which potentially led to the city’s new coronavirus outbreak.
According to a new report published by human rights group Labour Behind The Label, workers in the factories that supply a number of British fast fashion brands such as Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing were put at risk of contracting coronavirus by working without adequate ventilation, recommended space to social distance or PPE. Are brands like Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing responsible for Leicester’s new spike in COVID-19 cases?
Since March, Boohoo has seen a 22 per cent increase in its share price value due to the compulsory shutting of retail stores, which in turn led to more and more people shopping online. Shipping out an average of 400,000 garments per week, it became clear that Boohoo’s main priority during the outbreak was to somehow keep its employees working while the rest of the UK went on lockdown.
As most of us were locked indoors, the internet became our main source of entertainment and escape, which in turn required many factory workers to risk their lives in order to make ours just a tiny bit better. After all, who didn’t indulge in online shopping during the pandemic?
On 18 June, Health Secretary Matt Hancock reported a COVID-19 outbreak in Leicester, but instead of responding to the plea for action, Leicester City Council’s public health director Ivan Browne assured this rise in cases did not require a local lockdown, which meant production carried on unchanged. This delayed response inevitably spread the disease further while garments continued to be manufactured and sold to the general public.
Meanwhile, according to Dazed, Boohoo announced its plan to pay out a bonus of £150 million to its two co-founders and other executives as the brand saw an impressive increase in its share prices during the lockdown. In comparison, a report published by The Financial Times in 2018 found that some factory workers were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour, over £5 less than the UK minimum wage of £8.72.
As fast fashion continues to fuel modern slavery and as the pandemic continues to fuel fast fashion, I wonder if we’ve fallen into a vicious circle. Whether those factories in Leicester are responsible for the city’s new outbreak should not be seen as the only issue here. This example should push us to rethink that ‘summer sale’ approach to fast fashion. Is it worth the splurge? In this case, I would tend to say it doesn’t. The need for transparency is crucial now more than ever.