A new report from Labour Behind the Label, a campaign that works to improve conditions in the global garment industry, has highlighted evidence indicating that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infections and fatalities, while staff with symptoms or testing positive are being forced to continue working.
The ‘Boohoo & COVID-19’ report states that many Leicester factories continued operating throughout the lockdown due to sustained orders, primarily from the biggest brand sourcing from Leicester, Boohoo, which continued to operate and trade online. Labour Behind the Label said that by the 22nd April, even before the lockdown on businesses reopening was lifted, factories were operating at 100% capacity.
With garment manufacturing a major industry in Leicester, the report notes that most factories are small workshops “often housed in dilapidated buildings with little investment in building safety and modern ventilation.” The report stated: “It is inconceivable that such factories would be able to operate at full capacity whilst ensuring social distancing and adequate COVID-19 protection measures.”
Labour Behind the Label has been told of workers who are positive for COVID-19 being
required to work in order to fulfil orders.
Focusing on Boohoo, the report indicated that factories have been operating throughout the crisis and the company has stopped responding to requests for details of measures to protect workers during the COVID-19 crisis. It continued to say that Boohoo Group Ltd accounts for almost 75–80% production in Leicester and sources around 60–70% of its production from Leicester, which has reportedly increased in recent weeks to around 80%.
With Leicester now subject to a continued lockdown, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock reported an outbreak of concern in Leicester, the report states that “business as normal in the city’s notorious garment factories cannot continue and is already appearing potentially to be responsible for increased virus cases in the city.”
Reports to the Labour Behind the Label indicate that workers in Leicester’s garment factories have been told to come into work even with symptoms of COVID-19 or lose their job, and staff testing positive have been told to come into work, with managers telling workers not to speak with others about positive cases.
Labour Behind the Label says it has received numerous reports of furlough fraud, workers wishing to isolate being denied pay, factories operating illegally throughout lockdown, and of workers being forced to work in conditions of modern slavery. It says most of these cases are linked to suppliers producing for Boohoo and sister brands including