Government and Boohoo should have known about shabby Leicester garment factory practices sooner - Mark Casci

The remark from Matt Hancock that he was “worried” about employment practices at garment factories in Leicester caused me to literally throw my hands up in despair this weekend.

The Health Secretary, whose media appearances can border on the erratic as he clearly struggles to cope with the enormity of the Covid crisis, suggested that the issues of poor pay and conditions at garment factories had been flying under the radar.

If by flying under the radar, he means the subject of multiple pieces of investigative journalism over the past four years which had highlighted these disgraceful packages, then I guess he was spot on.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

This followed in the wake of a report that workers in a Leicester factory making clothes destined for Boohoo were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour.

Boohoo has responded to the allegations

A report in The Sunday Times also revealed the factory was operating last week during the local coronavirus lockdown in Leicester, without additional health measures in place.

Online fashion giant Boohoo said on Monday it will investigate alleged illegal practices at a supplier in Leicester after the report and that it will end relationships with any supplier it finds to have broken its code of conduct.

As shares in the retailer sank it said it was “very grateful” for The Sunday Times highlighting the alleged conditions at the factory, saying these were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”.

Meanwhile, Hancock pledged “very significant fines” and to shut down businesses that broke employment laws and government workplace safety guidance.

Retail has had a tough time

Sorry, not good enough.

The Government he currently serves in, as well as the previous governments in which he was a cabinet minister, have been aware of these shameful practices for some time.

Similarly, Boohoo should not have had to rely on investigative journalists to identify such conditions in its supply chain.

Greater due diligence is needed from all clothing suppliers.

Retail is in for a tough time.

And, for us as consumers, perhaps we need to question further where our non-essential retail items come from, in the same way we would do our food.

Retail

Data from Europe this week provided a tantalising glimpse of what lies ahead for Britain’s battered retail sector over the coming weeks and points towards a highly fragile recovery.

As many EU countries eased lockdown restrictions on their high street stores throughout May, total sales picked up by an average of 16.4 per cent – a figure that makes for sober reading given the amount of jobs dependent on the sector.

Matt Hancock

Despite the rapid rise in European consumers’ spending in May, overall sales remain a shadow of their pre-Covid level in most sectors, and in the eurozone they are still 5.1 per cent down on the same time a year ago.

There is every chance that these figures may be worse in the UK, owing to our e-commerce sector being much better developed than our EU counterparts. In France, online makes up about 10 per cent of sales compared to 20 per cent in the UK.

Online shopping is vital to Yorkshire’s economy owing to logistical excellence the region offers.

The likes of Clipper and Hermes are world leaders and have their bases on our patch.

And it is no accident that Amazon has invested millions into the region with fulfilment centres in the Doncaster area that are so vast they make you feel like you are outside when inside, and make aircraft hangars seem like garden sheds.

Sara Korchmaros, chief commercial officer at the retail technology platform Recash, astutely observed: “While the speed of growth in online sales eased, its continued momentum suggests this was no fleeting lockdown fad.

“The shift to online, in which some European countries lag behind the UK, is systemic – and in many areas the industry is racing to catch up with consumers’ changing tastes.”

She is right and all retail needs to adapt.