Boohoo was today hit by a fresh worker scandal, with claims that staff at the fast-fashion giant’s warehouse in Lancashire were made to work in temperatures of up to 32C over 12-hour shifts where they are expected to collect 130 items an hour.
The British company – which is known for its £3 shirts and £4 dresses and enjoys revenues of nearly £2billion a year – has tried to promote its ethical credentials two years after it emerged employees of some of its suppliers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.
But an undercover newspaper reporter has now made a series of disturbing claims about conditions at its warehouse in Burnley, with staff labelling themselves ‘slaves’, complaining of racism, sexual harassment and gruelling targets.
A new report has made a series of disturbing claims about conditions at Boohoo’s warehouse in Burnley. Pictured is a publicity photo
Three-quarters of the 59 callouts to Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse over the past five years led to the patient being taken to hospital
Boohoo said its figures showed pickers walked 7.8 miles per shift on average in August, although The Times said its reporter recorded going substantially further.
The tough conditions have led to workers collapsing in the aisles, with an ambulance called to the site once a month on average.
Three quarters of the 59 callouts over the past five years led to the patient being taken to hospital, with four people falling unconscious, fainting or feeling like they were about to pass out in the last financial year alone.
Boohoo said it was taking ‘every claim very seriously’ but ‘does not believe the picture painted is reflective of the working environment’ at the warehouse.
The undercover reporter spent a month as a picker at the warehouse in Burnley in August and September.
Staff are paid £11 an hour for shifts of up to 12 hours and the role involves picking up items from many miles of shelving at the direction of a tracking device strapped to the worker’s wrist.
After a training period, staff are expected to hit a target of 130 items an hour – more than two a minute – even though some can be several aisles away.
Failure can result in being disciplined by a manager and may ultimately lead to dismissal.
After a hot day earlier this year, a temperature of 32C was recorded inside the warehouse one night, when temperatures outside were around 19C.
While there is no legal maximum limit on workplace temperatures, the GMB union is campaigning for this to be set at 25C, while a former Boohoo member of staff who worked in the warehouse’s control room said the heat made work ‘unbearable’.
In one exchange reported by The Times, a manager briefing night shift workers said: ‘I’m standing here and I’m not moving and already I’m dripping with sweat.’
He was challenged by an employee who said: ‘Then give us extra breaks’.
‘No, no extra breaks,’ the manager said. ‘I get it, it is hot. But we still have to perform.’
Some staff complained about having their toilet breaks timed. Boohoo said it was standard practice for employers to monitor breaks but denied timing lavatory visits.
Boohoo group co-founder Mahmud Kamani seen at an industry event
Graffiti daubed by a worker on the warehouse floor of the warehouse described it as a ‘prison’, while in another aisle ‘slaves’ has been scrawled on the shelves.
The reporter was told he could take one or two lavatory breaks during a 12-hour shift.
The Burnley warehouse has also been hit by claims of racism, with a Pakistani man who had worked in the warehouse for 18 months telling the undercover reporter he had seen a white marshal sending Pakistani workers to the hottest parts of the warehouse, while white Bulgarians were kept in the cooler part.
Another disturbing allegation concerns a female member of staff who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a colleague in a corner of the warehouse.
After the assault, she told her floor manager but he did not inform people further up the hierarchy, it is claimed. She then told another manager who allegedly accused her of lying.
Later, the perpetrator is said to have admitted what had happened when he was later questioned and was sacked. Boohoo said it had dealt with the incident according to its ‘robust’ procedures.
In March last year, Boohoo ditched more than 400 suppliers following allegations they were paying staff less than the minimum wage.
The company saw more than £1 billion wiped from its share value in two days after a 2020 article exposed conditions in clothing factories in Leicester.
Other retailers such as Next and Asos dropped Boohoo clothing from their websites, and the company hired top lawyer Alison Levitt KC to look into the allegations
In September 2020, Ms Levitt found that there were ‘serious issues’ in the company’s supply chain.
Boohoo has tried to promote its ethical credentials two years after it emerged employees of some of its suppliers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour
The company attracted further negative headlines in 2020 when 25 people were infected with Covid at its warehouse in Sheffield amid claims conditions made it a ‘breeding ground’ for the disease.
A video published on social media on March 26 showed employees standing close together in hi-vis jackets at the warehouse, in an apparent breach of social distancing rules.
Today, Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow minister for employment rights and protections, described the latest claims concerning its Burnley warehouse as ‘shocking’.
‘The government has repeatedly failed to deliver their promised Employment Bill to tackle conditions in warehouses run like Victorian workhouses,’ he said.
But Boohoo hit back, saying in a statement: ‘Boohoo is taking every claim very seriously, but does not believe the picture painted is reflective of the working environment at our Burnley warehouse.
‘Over recent years, we have invited and subsequently received representatives from external organisations, authorities and people such as the GLAA, local MPs, the deputy leader of the local council, and Burnley College, and we remain committed to transparency and engagement.
‘Making sure our people are safe and comfortable in their workplace is our highest priority. That is why more and more of our colleagues are choosing to stay here for longer, with our turnover rate continuing to fall year on year.
We offer generous rates of pay, well over and above the National Living Wage, with additional benefits including subsidised private healthcare. Through our employee engagement programme our colleagues tell us that they are happy with their working environment, feel valued and feel listened to.’