The chief executive of Boohoo has written to home secretary Priti Patel urging the government to establish a licensing scheme for UK-based textile manufacturers.
The group’s market value has fallen sharply over the past fortnight after it found itself — not for the first time — at the centre of allegations about illegal pay levels and unsafe working conditions in factories that make or process its garments.
“A joint effort between industry and government will ensure that the renaissance of which Boohoo group has been a proud part is a key contributor to our country’s trading future,” said John Lyttle, who was hired from Primark last year to oversee the company’s expansion.
“We wholeheartedly endorse the call . . . for the government to implement a fit to trade licensing scheme that ensures all garment factories are meeting their legal obligations to their employees,” he went on.
The “fit to trade” scheme was proposed by the British Retail Consortium, of which Boohoo is not a member, and is supported by two parliamentary action groups.
The BRC’s head of sustainability policy, Peter Andrews, recently acknowledged that efforts by its members to improve labour practices had “not led to the desired system-wide changes needed” and warned that production would move overseas if the government did not act.
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has also called for greater powers to enforce the law, pointing out that it can only inspect premises with their occupants’ permission.
Mr Lyttle said Boohoo was “taking action to investigate allegations of malpractice in our supply chain and we ask government to take action too”.
“We firmly believe that ‘Made in Britain’ should be a label of pride for those wearing our clothes and badge of honour for those who make them,” he added.
Ms Patel has hinted that she may toughen up enforcement of modern slavery law after recent inspections found no evidence that offences were being committed.
She suggested in an interview last weekend that a fear of being labelled racist was a factor in preventing action. The comments provoked a backlash from within Leicester.
Around two-fifths of Boohoo’s products are made in the Midlands city, often in small factories employing just a few dozen people. Its closeness to the company’s distribution hub allows Boohoo to produce small runs of simple garments quickly. If they sell well, production is scaled up.
Last week, MPs on the House of Commons environmental audit committee urged the company to join the Ethical Trading Initiative and recognise trade unions at its distribution centre in Burnley. Boohoo has not yet responded to their letter.