Boohoo was hit by a new labor scandal today, with allegations that staff at the fast fashion giant’s Lancashire warehouse were forced to work in temperatures of up to 32C on 12-hour shifts where they are expected to collect 130 items per hour.
The British company – which is known for its £3 shirts and £4 dresses and makes nearly £2billion a year in revenue – has tried to promote its ethical credentials two years after it discovered that employees of some of his suppliers in Leicester were paid as little as £3.50 an hour.
But an undercover reporter has now made a series of disturbing claims about conditions at his warehouse in Burnley, with staff calling themselves ‘slaves’, complaining of racism, sexual harassment and grueling targeting.
A new report has made a series of worrying claims about conditions at Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse. Pictured is a publicity photo
Three-quarters of 59 calls to the Boohoo warehouse in Burnley over the past five years have resulted in the patient being taken to hospital
Boohoo said its figures showed pickers averaged 8 miles per shift in August, although the Times said its reporter had made considerable progress.
The harsh conditions led to workers collapsing in the aisles, with an ambulance called to the site once a month on average.
Three-quarters of the 59 calls over the past five years have resulted in the patient being hospitalized, with four people losing consciousness, fainting or feeling on the verge of fainting in the last fiscal year alone.
Boohoo said it takes “every complaint very seriously” but “does not believe the painted image reflects the working environment” in the warehouse.
The undercover reporter spent a month as a picker at the Burnley warehouse in August and September.
Staff are paid £11 an hour for shifts of up to 12 hours and the role involves picking items from many miles of shelving under the direction of a tracking device strapped to the worker’s wrist.
After a period of training, staff should hit a target of 130 items per hour – more than two per minute – although some may be several aisles away.
Failure may result in disciplinary action from a manager and may ultimately lead to dismissal.
After a hot day earlier this year, a temperature of 32°C was recorded inside the warehouse one night, while temperatures outside were around 19°C.
Although there is no legal maximum temperature limit in the workplace, the GMB union is campaigning for it to be set at 25C, while a former Boohoo staff member who worked in the warehouse control room said the heat made the work “unbearable”.
In an exchange reported by The Times, an official briefing night shift workers said: “I’m standing here and not moving and already dripping with sweat.”
He was stopped by an employee who said to him: “Then give us extra breaks”.
“No, no extra breaks,” the manager said. “I get it, it’s hot. But we still have to perform.
Some staff have complained that their bathroom breaks are timed. Boohoo said it was common practice for employers to monitor breaks, but denied timing bathroom visits.
Boohoo Group co-founder Mahmud Kamani seen at an industry event
Graffiti painted by a worker on the floor of the warehouse described it as a “jail”, while in another aisle “slaves” were scrawled on the shelves.
The reporter was told he could take a bathroom break or two during a 12-hour shift.
The Burnley warehouse has also been hit by allegations of racism, with a Pakistani man who had worked in the warehouse for 18 months telling the undercover reporter he saw a white marshal dispatching Pakistani workers to the hottest parts of the warehouse, while white Bulgarians were kept in the coldest part.
Another disturbing allegation involves a female staff member who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a colleague in a corner of the warehouse.
After the attack, she told her floor manager but he did not inform people higher up, it is claimed. She then told another manager who allegedly accused her of lying.
The attacker later allegedly admitted what happened when he was questioned later and was fired. Boohoo said it handled the incident according to its “robust” procedures.
In March last year, Boohoo dropped more than 400 suppliers following allegations they were paying staff less than minimum wage.
The company has seen more than £1billion wiped off the value of its shares in two days after a 2020 article exposed conditions at Leicester garment factories.
Other retailers such as Next and Asos have removed Boohoo clothing from their websites, and the company has hired top attorney Alison Levitt KC to investigate the allegations.
In September 2020, Ms Levitt discovered there were ‘serious issues’ in the company’s supply chain.
Boohoo tried to promote its ethical credentials two years after it emerged that employees at some of its suppliers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.
The company drew further negative headlines in 2020 when 25 people were infected with Covid at its Sheffield warehouse as claims terms made it ‘breeding ground’ for the disease.
A video posted to social media on March 26 showed employees standing close together in high-visibility jackets at the warehouse, in apparent violation of social distancing rules.
Today Justin Madders, the Shadow Labor Minister for Labor Rights and Protection, described the latest claims about his Burnley warehouse as ‘shocking’.
“The government has repeatedly failed to deliver its promised jobs bill to tackle conditions in warehouses run as Victorian workhouses,” he said.
But Boohoo hit back, saying in a statement: ‘Boohoo takes every complaint very seriously, but does not believe the painted image reflects the working environment at our Burnley warehouse.
“Over the past few years we have invited and subsequently received representatives from external organisations, authorities and individuals such as the GLAA, local MPs, the Deputy Leader of the Local Council and Burnley College, and we remain committed to transparency and commitment.
“Ensuring that our employees are safe and comfortable in their workplace is our top priority. That’s why more and more of our colleagues are choosing to stay here longer, as our turnover rate continues to drop year after year.
We offer generous pay rates, well above the national living wage, with added benefits including subsidized private healthcare. Thanks to our employee engagement program, our colleagues tell us that they are satisfied with their work environment, that they feel valued and listened to.
Boohoo shares have fallen 68% this year.