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21 Oct 2021

QC says Boohoo could have been liable for human rights breaches under a new UK law

QC says Boohoo could have been liable for human rights breaches under a new UK law

A new legal review into Boohoo’s Leicester supply chain finds the fast fashion brand could have been held liable under a UK mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence law called for by rights groups.

The publication of the review comes at the same time as more than 30 leading UK businesses and investors such as ASOS, Primark, John Lewis and Tesco call on the Government to introduce a new mHRDD law.

The review, by Tim Otty QC and Naina Patel of Blackstone Chambers - commissioned by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Corporate Justice Coalition - builds on the finding in Boohoo’s own review into its supply chain that: “There may be evidence of breaches of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

In the review, Otty and Patel say: “Boohoo could have been found liable for breaches of the Guiding Principles under mandatory human rights due diligence/UK ‘failure to prevent’ legislation in the form of the BIICL Model Legal Provision, had such legislation been in place during the relevant period of time.”

“Of course, it is difficult to speculate as to whether Boohoo might have behaved differently had such legislation been in place.”

They add: “However, Boohoo’s story is a compelling example of a situation in which such legislation might have made a difference, either by encouraging appropriate action to be taken earlier or by providing a means of redress for those affected by the allegations found to be substantially true.”

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have no force of law in the UK, and as Boohoo’s review notes: “...thus a breach could not by and of itself amount to the commission of a criminal offence”.

The review from Blackstone Chambers notes that various organisations and institutions have called for or analysed the potential of the UNGPs being incorporated into a new UK law, including the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. It also notes the development of such laws in other jurisdictions including France, Finland, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

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