Boohoo Group revealed Monday the names of the roughly 1,100 factories, spanning 30 countries, that pump out its $16 bodysuits and $24 wedge heels.
The move is a first for the British ultra-fast-fashion e-tailer, which produced the list following an “extensive period” of mapping and auditing in the wake of allegations over worker exploitation in its Leicester supply chain last year.
With 424 factories, China makes up the bulk of Boohoo’s supplier base. It’s followed by Turkey with 205 factories, India with 151, the United Kingdom with 96 (up from 78 in March) and Bangladesh with 71. The PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal and Warehouse owner also said that it intends to sign the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, which succeeded the Accord on Fire and Building and Safety in Bangladesh on Sept. 1. Bestseller, H&M, Zara owner Inditex and Primark are among the 126 mostly European brands that have thrown their support behind the legally binding agreement, the original version of which was struck after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza multi-factory complex, which killed 1,134 workers and injured scores more.
The publication of Boohoo’s suppliers is part of the pure-play’s so-called Agenda for Change, which comprises recommendations made by Alison Levitt, the former Crown Prosecution Service legal advisor who was commissioned to conduct an independent review of the company at the height of the imbroglio. While Levitt said she found no evidence that Boohoo had committed any criminal offenses, reports about poverty wages and precarious conditions were “substantially true” and Boohoo’s own monitoring of the “many failings in the Leicester supply chain” proved “inadequate” because of “weak corporate governance.”
In the 12 months since, Boohoo has hired a head of ethical compliance and a head of sustainability, developed new responsible purchasing practices, strengthened its whistleblower policies and appointed former judge Brian Leveson to oversee the company’s overhaul with the help of accounting giant KPMG. The global supplier list, which includes the address of each facility, the approximate number of workers and a gender breakdown by percentage, will be updated every 12 months, Boohoo said.
“The Agenda for Change program was designed to ensure that the changes we made to our business are sustainable and embedded into our culture as we look to the future,” CEO John Lyttle said in a statement. “The dedication of our teams to delivering real change has meant we have been able to achieve the challenging targets we set ourselves and I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved in this, both inside Boohoo Group and all of the external partners we have worked with, for their commitment.”
The release of Boohoo’s international suppliers coincided with Leveson’s laudatory fourth report to the company’s board.
“To such extent as Boohoo can seek to address and resolve these issues (aimed at assisting the workforce of their suppliers), they are making very real effort to do as much as possible,” Leveson said. “In some cases, it is clear that this work is beyond what could be considered as reasonably to have been expected of them: a number of proposals and actions go beyond that which were recommended in the [Levitt] review.”
Nevertheless, the ultimate completion of the Agenda for Change will not mark the “end of the journey” for Boohoo but rather the “end of the beginning,” he said. He also warned about the limits of audits in capturing a full picture of a factory’s operations. Though Boohoo has “articulated its aspirations” and its “commitment is clear,” its challenge will be to “complete the journey and then to sustain and enlarge the transformation to its business,” Leveson added.
“As the group readily recognizes and is prepared for, it will be critical to continue to maintain effective and efficient systems to ensure ethical compliance across its business practices; these systems must be baked into the way of working and become business as usual,” Leveson said. “In relation to the supply chain, this will involve monitoring not only through audit (which is not the complete answer, simply providing a snapshot of compliance at the time) but by regular visits, ensuring access to whistleblowing hotlines and engagement with the supplier.”
Leveson alluded to a recent news report about Boohoo’s crackdown on sub-minimum wages driving abuses further underground, though he appeared to frame the offense as the work of a single individual at a subcontractor facility. This person was subsequently fired. The owner of the factory, he said, has “taken what has happened very much to heart,” embarking on his own “change program,” including the sponsorship of public training on modern-day slavery.
Labor-rights campaigners say, however, that unless Boohoo’s measures include engaging with trade unions or ring-fencing labor costs to ensure that prices negotiated with suppliers cover the “reasonable cost” of production, the Agenda for Change is “simply providing a veneer of progress without corresponding improvements for workers.”
“Without confirmation from Boohoo that the price paid to suppliers has changed to ensure workers are paid at least minimum wage and all expected benefits—such as national insurance contribution, holiday pay, pension auto-enrolment and statutory sick and maternity pay—the conditions for labor-rights abuses that have persisted for the past decade will continue unabated,” Martin Buttle, head of good work at ShareAction, a nonprofit that promotes responsible investment, cautioned in June.