Boohoo ‘facing modern slavery investigation’ after report finds Leicester workers paid as little as £3.50 an hour

Leicester factory accused of operating during city’s lockdown without social distancing measures

Conrad Duncan
Sunday 05 July 2020 18:00 BST
Matt Hancock announces lockdown to be extended in Leicester

Online fashion giant Boohoo is facing a modern slavery investigation after workers in Leicester making clothes linked to the company were found to have been paid as little as £3.50 an hour, according to an undercover report.

The clothing brand has been a rare financial success story during the coronavirus crisis but has recently been accused of putting employees at risk of Covid-19 by working with factories which continued to operate during the UK’s lockdown.

An investigation by The Sunday Times found a factory in Leicester displaying the sign “Jaswal Fashions” was operating during the city’s localised lockdown last week without social distancing measures in place.

The report said an undercover journalist who worked at the factory for two days was told to expect pay of just £3.50 an hour – well below the UK minimum wage of £8.72 for workers aged 25 and over.

Clothes made in the factory were reportedly under the Nasty Gal label, which is owned by Boohoo.

“These motherf*****s know how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts,” a foreman at the factory said, according to The Sunday Times.

The allegations came after Priti Patel, the home secretary, asked the National Crime Agency (NCA) to investigate claims of modern slavery in clothing factories in the city.

Ms Patel said the conditions described in Leicester factories were “truly appalling” and added that the government would not tolerate “sick criminals forcing innocent people into slave labour and a life of exploitation”.

The NCA, which has reportedly seen details of the newspaper’s investigation, said it had attended a number of business premises in the Leicester area in recent days “to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking”.

On Sunday morning, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said there were “significant concerns” about employment practices in some factories in the city.

The Independent has approached Boohoo for comment on the investigation.

A statement from Nasty Gal, seen by The Sunday Times, said Jaswal Fashions was not a “direct supplier” but added it would investigate the claims.

“Nasty Gal does not allow any of its suppliers to pay less than the minimum wage and has a zero-tolerance approach to incidences of modern slavery,” the statement said.

“We have terminated relationships with suppliers where evidence of non-compliance with our strict code of conduct is found.”

Earlier this week, the group Labour Behind the Label said it had received reports from workers of alleged “furlough fraud”, low wages, modern slavery and illegal opening of factories during lockdown.

The group also said it had received reports of employees being told to come to work even when they were showing symptoms of Covid-19.

“It is heartbreaking to see grotesque inequality when some people profit so much while there are workers at the bottom of the chain whose lives are being put at risk,” Meg Lewis, the group’s campaign manager, said

In a statement, Boohoo said it would not tolerate “any incidence of non-compliance especially in relation to the treatment of workers” and said it had “terminated relationships with suppliers” which had been found to have broken rules.

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive said it was “actively investigating” three textile businesses in Leicester.

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