Written by Isabel Blissett
Do we actually care about the implications of fast fashions low prices on worker’s rights, or is it all just a performance?
It’s easy to remember the uproar that was met by the allegations of modern-day slavery in Boohoo factories, but what has actually come of it? A look into the validity of our outrage and whether the company has actually sustained any significant damage since the controversy.
So what happened?
Back in 2020 an independent report found that Boohoo was guilty of severe worker safety and fair pay issues that were present within one of its Leicester factories. This was discovered by an undercover reporter for The Sunday Times, who went into the factory posed as an Indian student looking for a job. The illuminating report found that workers were subjected to what only can be described as modern-day slavery, being paid sometimes as little as £3.50 an hour. They weren’t given access to PPE and no social distancing measures were present within the factory, which a campaign group blamed for the spike of COVID cases locally at the time. This subsequently was catapulted into a massive news story and produced considerable reactions from the general public.
How did people react to it?
The public reacted in a number of ways, many took to social media to voice their opinions and outrage over the controversy. Student Isabel Hambly (@ihambly_design) posted a short essay including research she’d done on the issue of slavery in many Leicester sweatshops. She stated that “there will be outrage for a few weeks… we need to keep up the clamour for change.”. The jury’s still out on whether we have achieved that since.
Vogue published an article advising the public on how to respond positively, titled “How To Hold The Garment Industry To Account? “You Vote With Your Wallet. It’s Simple Maths”” In which they detailed exactly what had happened, including that Boohoo had lost £2 billion in market worth since the scandal. They also included advice for consumers on how to end their support for companies that behave this way, stating that the most effective way to do this was to be more careful in where they choose to shop, and also to sign petitions on Labour Behind the Label.
In response to the scandal The Telegraph asked, “what does “Made in Britain” really mean?”. Normally, you could expect a “made in Britain” label to evoke feelings of quality and locally sourced materials. As more evidence comes to light, and the popularity of fast fashion still booms, this opinion runs a high risk of becoming outdated. A lot has changed since the industrial revolution where not doubt this view was born from, so, will Leicester’s sweatshops begin to create a change in outlook?
What has happened subsequently?
Despite the initial outrage it seems not much has changed as Boohoo’s sales still soar above what was expected after the controversy. Even after the independent report by Alison Levitt QC, which condemned Boohoo stating that they had “not taken sufficient responsibility for those involved in producing their clothes”, they seem to have bounced back very well. Which raises the question, do we actually care about human rights violations and sustainability? The reason why the Boohoo scandal was such big news was because it was so close to home. Why does it take these issues being on our doorstep before we notice? And even after we notice, does it produce a change in behaviour? We’d like to think so but it’s not looking too sure. After all, we are all happy to express our opinions on social media, but will we start putting our money where our mouths are and stop feeding this monster?