Boohoo has sparked fresh controversy after holding a three-day supplier conference in a luxury hotel during the height of the pandemic.
The event, which invited Boohoo’s international suppliers to attend in person and present new products and fabrics, was held in Dubai last week according to This is Money.
It came not only as new coronavirus cases in the UK and Dubai spiked, but just days after a report from Sir Brian Leveson criticised the brand for failing to provide “adequate Covid governance” at over a dozen of its factories.
A spokesperson for Boohoo said it was “compulsory” to wear face masks during the meeting, and Dubai law states citizens must wear face masks when in public spaces including hotels.
However, some suppliers declined to attend over safety concerns, while others said despite their reservations they feared losing business if they didn’t attend.
It comes as Boohoo scrambles to reassure its investors following a damning investigation into its supply chain last year, which found various health and safety violations, cases of failed payment of wages, failures in recording of hours and identity verification and potential furlough fraud.
“Before Christmas, Boohoo’s bosses were in the House of Commons talking about the steps they were taking to better protect people working for their suppliers and become a more responsible business,” Cranfield University professor and responsible business campaigner Mary Creagh said.
“Once again they talk the good talk, but when it comes to being a responsible business, investors and the board still do not seem to be getting the change they were promised.”
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen added: “When you have a company like Boohoo, which has tolerated massive labour abuses in its supply chain, we shouldn’t be surprised to also hear that it is not respecting the Covid guidelines as well.”
In response to the backlash, Boohoo said: “In line with government guidance, everyone that travelled received a negative Covid test before they left for Dubai.
“The measures that we have all become very accustomed to in the UK, wearing masks, using sanitiser, social distancing and frequent hand washing, were implemented throughout the meetings. It is totally inaccurate to suggest that any supplier was pressured to attend.
“A number of suppliers declined the invitation and their choice was entirely respected.”