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Report

21 Oct 2021

Author:
Timothy Otty QC,
Author:
Naina Patel

Report: A legal opinion on Boohoo's supply chain and liability under an mHRDD law

'IN THE MATTER OF THE FINDINGS OF A REVIEW INTO THE BOOHOO GROUP PLC’S LEICESTER SUPPLY CHAIN AND LIABILITY UNDER A MANDATORY HUMAN RIGHTS DUE DILIGENCE/ ‘FAILURE TO PREVENT’ LAW', 22 October 2021

"On 5 July 2020, the Sunday Times newspaper published an article in which it alleged unacceptable working conditions and exploitative and illegal rates of pay as low as £3.50 an hour in Leicester-based factories making clothes for boohoo Group PLC (“Boohoo”). The article noted that at the relevant time, the minimum wage in Britain for those aged 25 and over was £8.72. As a consequence of the allegations, on 8 July 2020, Alison Levitt QC was commissioned by Boohoo to conduct an independent review into whether the allegations were well-founded, the extent to which Boohoo had knowledge of them, Boohoo’s compliance with the relevant law and to make recommendations for the future...

... Our opinion adopts the following structure:

First, we consider the evidence analysed by the Review in relation to allegations of poor working conditions and low rates of pay, Boohoo’s business practices, weak corporate governance and inadequate monitoring of the supply chain and Boohoo’s state of knowledge in 2019, and we set out the conclusions reached in the review in relation to each of these matters.

Secondly, we set out the background to and relevant content from the Guiding Principles, including the relevant human rights to which they relate.

Thirdly, we explain some of the history to the lobby for a mandatory human rights due diligence/’failure to prevent’ law in the UK, including CJC’s proposals in that regard and a model legal provision (“the Model Legal Provision”) developed by the British Institute of International and Comparative law (“BIICL”).

Fourthly, we consider the question of whether Boohoo could have been found liable for breaches of the Guiding Principles under a mandatory human rights due diligence/’failure to prevent’ law in the UK that broadly takes the form of the BIICL Model Legal Provision. In doing so, we consider some of the recommendations of the Review and steps taken to implement those recommendations, and their implications for this question.

We conclude that based on the evidence considered and conclusions reached in the Review, 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, but such incentivisation of better practice simply underscores the value of such legislation..."

Timeline