UK: Fashion retailer Boohoo accused of refusal to recognise trade union despite commitment to do so; Incl. co. comments

UK fashion etailer Boohoo has been accused of refusing to recognise retail trade union USDAW, despite assurances that it would do so during a parliamentary inquiry on the fast-fashion industry in the UK, led by the Environmental Auditing Committee (EAC). In its evidence to the EAC, Boohoo committed to union recognition “if the workers would like it”.

In February 2019, the EAC released its findings in a report which highlighted labour abuses faced by garment workers in the UK producing for brands such as Boohoo, including illegally low wages and a lack of factory unionisation. Among its recommendations, the EAC recommended Boohoo engage with USDAW and to recognise the union for its workers. 

USDAW claims Boohoo has failed to meet with its representatives. It says that workers are being instructed to ignore union reps and staff are fearful they will lose their jobs if they engage with the union. In response, USDAW says it has stepped up its campaign for recognition and has had 'action' days in Manchester and Burnley. 

MPs have since written to Boohoo asking for a progress report after learning that the retailer has yet to met its commitments. 

Boohoo has responded that "employee engagement is high on [its] agenda", but maintains that "there continued to be no interest" from employees for union recognition. More comments from Boohoo are included in the articles below. 

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20 March 2020

UK: ASOS & Boohoo warehouse workers struggle for union recognition; Includes company comments

Author: Ruby Lott-Lavigna, VICE

"ASOS, Boohoo and the Fast Fashion Workers Fighting to Unionise", 3 March 2020

In 2010... ASOS opened a new warehouse in Barnsley... [T]he GMB regional organiser... [said] "We found out quite quickly that the working practices were really, really poor there."... Workers who alleged bullying and racism, worsening mental health conditions, and even one who had a heart attack... all hoped to gain union recognition... In 2016, Buzzfeed News... claimed that workers... had their toilet and water breaks limited, and... pay was docked if they were a minute late... XPO Logistics... [who] runs the warehouse for ASOS – denied the claims.... [A]mbulance call-outs to the warehouse happened once a week...

GMB say ASOS wouldn't meet... to discuss the union efforts... In 2017... XPO Logistics... voluntarily agreed to sign a deal with Community Union... GMB accused ASOS of... recognising a... more sympathetic union... [with] only four members in the warehouse... and that its recognition agreement contains a no-strike clause... The Trade Union Congress Disputes Committee found that Community Union "clearly and significantly breached"... guidelines...

ASOS told VICE, "... [W]e take concerns about employee welfare... extremely seriously. We are committed to protecting freedom of association... including in our fulfilment centres, and in 2017 we voluntarily recognised the Community trade union at our Barnsley site..."

... XPO Logistics... [said]: "... [T]he safety and well-being of our colleagues is our top priority. At XPO, we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and harassment, and all complaints are promptly investigated."..

[T]he Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers is... responding to calls from employees to unionise Boohoo's call centre in Burnley and its head office in Manchester... [A]t the Burnley call centre... "[Staff] are saying things like 12-hours shifts, health and safety being compromised... But... [when it comes to unionisation], the owners... have been absolutely clear: over my dead body."... Boohoo [said]... "Shift patterns... include appropriate break times... "As we have previously stated we have consulted our team at Burnley repeatedly... Their view remains that they do not need or want the representation of a Trade Union."...

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22 July 2019

UK: Pressure mounts on Boohoo as it continues to refuse trade union Usdaw recognition

Author: Elias Jahshan, Retail Gazette

"Boohoo under growing pressure from MPs to recognise union", 22 July 2019

Boohoo is facing heat from parliament after a group of MPs wrote a letter demanding answers as to why it has not yet recognised a trade union.

The news comes after Usdaw held a protest at Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse during the online retailer’s AGM last month.

Usdaw said Boohoo refused to recognise them, and accused the retailer of instructing staff not to speak to union representatives. The union organisation said it wanted to meet with Boohoo to ensure staff at its warehouse were being “treated with dignity and respect”.

... Boohoo said in a letter dated July 4: “We would recognise a union if our workers would like us to recognise a union. “Our position is unchanged. Engagement to date has not indicated that our employees want us to recognise a trade union.”

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), a select committee of MPs in parliament, has now written to Boohoo to demand answers on why the union has not been recognised and to outline the steps the retailer has taken to engage with Usdaw...

The EAC’s letter comes after Burnley councillors backed a motion earlier this month that urged the fashion group to engage with the union...

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18 June 2019

UK: Boohoo addresses claims it is reluctant to acknowledge trade union as union prepares to heighten campaign for recognition

Author: Hannah Abdulla, just-style

"Boohoo rebuffs claims it is reluctant to engage with unions", 14 June 2019

 ...Boohoo has defended itself against claims it is hesitant to give its staff the opportunity to join an independent trade union, adding it has taken measures to understand the views and opinions of its teams and that its staff have shown "no interest" in trade union representation.

The comments...follow an announcement that retail trade union USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is "stepping" up its campaign for recognition at Boohoo...

 Mary Creagh MP and chair of the EAC wrote a letter ot Boohoo joint CEO Carol Kane saying this was "contrary to the evidence" given to the committee...Creagh's letter also questioned where Boohoo was at with its considerations to join the Ethical Trading Initiative...

 ...Boohoo says it is currently "in discussions" with the ETI. However, it adds it already has "a strong framework of supply chain practices and policies in place that meet or exceed industry initiatives." 

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18 June 2019

UK: Boohoo staff reportedly stopped from engaging with trade union following accusations of refusing trade union negotiation & recognition

Author: Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW)

"Boohoo claims ring hollow after the company instructs staff to ignore Usdaw reps and bin their leaflets", 11 June 2019

A Boohoo worker contacted Usdaw to explain how the company are responding to the union’s ongoing campaign for recognition: “I work for Boohoo and all staff were told that when leaving work at 6pm there would be union reps outside wanting to talk to us. We were then told that we should not speak to anyone and if given any leaflets we are to just put them in the bin. I thought you would like to know what it is they are up to, that no matter what they say to you they don't want a union and will do whatever they can to stop it from happening, even make staff feel like they will lose their jobs over it. Please keep my name out of it, I am only telling you because what they are doing is wrong.”

Mike Aylward – Usdaw Divisional Officer says: “This account of what Boohoo management are up to is shocking and a direct contradiction of the statements they have made in the media and to MPs..."

...“Boohoo staff clearly know that what managers are doing is wrong and they fear for their jobs if they speak out. This behaviour is a throwback to a Dickensian employer of 1819, rather than a modern ethical trader of 2019. We have received fantastic support from Boohoo employees asking us to keep up the campaign for recognition, which is simply at odds with what the company is saying..."

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17 May 2019

UK: Fast fashion retailer Boohoo accused of refusing union recognition despite assurances; Incl. co. comments

Author: Sandra Laville, The Guardian

"Boohoo refuses to let union talk to workers about representation", 16 May 2019

The booming online fashion retailer Boohoo is refusing to allow trade union officials to discuss recognition for employees months after its founder told MPs she was open to union representation...

[T]he founder of Boohoo Carol Kane told MPs she would allow union recognition at her distribution offices in Burnley if workers wanted it.

But the Usdaw union said Boohoo had rebuffed six months of repeated attempts to start recognition discussions.

Last month Boohoo again declined a request from Mike Aylward, north-west divisional officer for Usdaw, to meet employee representatives to discuss union representation...

The Boohoo distribution centre in Burnley employs up to 3,000 workers at peak times, and is one of the biggest employers in the town. Aylward said the company was continuing to refuse to allow the union to engage with employee representatives to discuss union recognition... “They are certainly don’t seem to be taking the recommendations of the committee [of MPs] seriously,” he said...

In a statement, Boohoo said: “Listening to the views and opinions of our team has always been a core part of our philosophy, which is why we have our employee engagement forum, Your Voice, which has been running for five years. As we have previously stated to Usdaw, we are consulting with our team with regards to their interest in meeting with a union and these conversations are ongoing.”

The company said it had submitted an application to join the Ethical Trading Initiative...

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