Boohoo could be banned from the US following widespread allegations of “modern slavery enforced labour” in its supply chain.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has now launched an investigation into the online fashion giant and many of its suppliers, according to Sky News.
The investigation has been launched in response to petitions from lawyer and head of the anti-modern slavery campaign group Liberty Shared, Duncan Jepson, who said the “evidence of Boohoo and forced labour is quite compelling.”
The US, which accounted for more than 20 per cent of Boohoo’s total revenue last year, prohibits the importation of any merchandise manufactured “in any foreign country by forced or indentured labour” under the US Tariff Act 1930.
Should the CBP’s investigation find sufficient evidence of enforced labour at Boohoo or its suppliers, the retailer could be excluded from trading in the country for good, marking the latest and most significant blow to its operations since the scandal broke last year.
According to Jepson, this will “be a wake-up call for British institutions about how they’re handling modern slavery enforced labour, particularly in a community like Leicester East.
“What we’d all like, those of us interested in improving labour conditions, is for Boohoo to really get to grips with governance of their supply chain to ensure there is no wage theft and people have proper contracts,” he added.
Kevin Hyland, the UK’s former anti-slavery commissioner added that the sanctions which could potentially be slapped on Boohoo are “enormous”.
He continued: “The aim of the petitions is very clear, that companies which think they can benefit from forced labour and the exploitation of others are shown that they cannot and will face a sanction that they can’t trade in the world’s largest economy.”
The action comes after a bombshell report published by the Sunday Times last summer found evidence of illegally low wages and poor working conditions in a significant portion of Boohoo’s supply chain.
In response Boohoo brought in Alison Levitt QC to launch an independent investigation of 62 of its suppliers, 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.
Boohoo told Sky News in a statement: “We have taken action against 64 suppliers who did not meet the group’s standards in the levels of transparency that business requires.
“If we were to discover any suggestion of modern-day slavery we would immediately disclose this to relevant UK authorities.
“We are confident in the actions that we are taking to ensure that all of our products meet and exceed the CBP (US Customs and Border Protection) criteria on preventing the product of forced labour entering the US (or any of our markets).”