Monday 5 October 2020 10:55 am

Boohoo is on the wrong side of history when it comes to business ethics and sustainability

Abbie Morris is chief executive and co-founder of Compare Ethics.

It is alarming to see Bohoo’s profits surge despite confirmation of allegations of endemic abuse at every single step of their supply chain.

Yet this outcome does not necessarily come as a shock given that Boohoo’s reputation has consistently been married to a culture of neglect and exploitative worker conditions. Once again, we see commitments that fall substantially short of the tangible action demanded to combat the extent of the consequences that fast fashion models contribute to.

Read more: Boohoo profit soars during pandemic despite factory scandal

We also now know that Boohoo chief executives were made aware of worker mistreatment and wage exploitation months before the Leicester factory scandal exploded across the media. Such blatant disregard for the safety, rights, and wellbeing of factory workers in the UK should not be tolerated, especially from a public company today no less. The evidence showing a continuation of unlawful commercial practices is reflective of fast fashion giants’ failure to take real and meaningful responsibility to put an end to modern slavery. 

Against the backdrop of the devastating impacts of the pandemic, 2020 should mark a watershed moment for fashion industry leaders to step up and show their genuine commitment to transparency across their supply chain. Systemic change is possible, and standards can improve, but until we create and implement third party verification systems tied to government legislation, we will continue to see brands operate with a huge cost to human beings and the planet. 

Read more: Boohoo inquiry calls for former Leicester factory workers to give evidence

Now more than ever, a conversation is needed to be had around the role of the fast fashion business model. The whole system is broken and if it is to make up for its appalling debt to the environment and human lives then the root causes must be tackled. At the heart of fast fashion’s power and production structure is speed to market and price. This hotbed of pressure is an element of the supply chain that is not conducive to the standards that consumers say they want to see in the brands they buy from.  

For concrete change to truly take place, we absolutely need to see the introduction and implementation of industry-wide standards and wider efforts from the government to hold brands to account when they fall short. 

Proof is critical to this collaborative mission. New research by my company Compare Ethics shows a staggering 83 per cent of consumers would be more likely to trust a product’s sustainability claim if it had been verified by a third party. Using third-party verification – the process by which products and services are assessed objectively by a non-biased standards organisation – gives retailers the chance to fully back-up their claims of being sustainable and anti-slavery. 

Consumers are wising up and calling for greater transparency and clarity to discern ethical products from non-ethical ones.

Read more: Major Boohoo shareholders fail to denounce CEO over Leicester factory conditions

With only one fifth of shoppers reported to trust brand sustainability claims, brands who fail to concretely verify their products will soon lose their allure and credibility.  

Third-party verification is not just important, it is essential. If you want to be on the wrong side of history and lose favour with forward-thinking consumers, then Boohoo is the example to follow. Those that push for industry-wide standards combined with third-party verification will come out on top and survive in the long-run. 

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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