Online fashion giant Boohoo announced on Wednesday that it is launching an independent review of its UK supply chain, following modern slavery allegations against some of its suppliers in Leicester. An undercover Sunday Times reporter found that workers were being paid £3.50 an hour (£5.22 less than minimum wage) and were not wearing face masks to protect each other from the spread of coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly, these allegations have had a monumental impact on the fast fashion retailer; the value of the brand has fallen by almost £2bn since the Sunday Times made the initial report, and big names such as Next, Asos and Amazon have all removed Boohoo clothing from their platforms.

The independent review is set to be led by the former head of a law firm white collar crime unit, alongside the company’s deputy chairman, and will focus on, amongst other things, compliance with minimum wage and COVID-19 regulations.

Boohoo said in a statement that it “does not and will not condone any incidence of mistreatment of employees and of non-compliance with our strict supplier code of conduct” and to be fair to the brand, the UK authorities have so far not found any evidence of modern slavery offences in their first round of inspections into Boohoo’s suppliers. Nevertheless, the allegations have been made, and the backlash from the retail industry will I’m sure be indicative of the reactions of many of us.

While 2020 has brought its fair share of surprises (and we’re only in July…), the possibility that these practices may still be ongoing is a very uncomfortable one. And so it should be. One thing Coronavirus has shown us is how much we rely on those who keep our supply chains moving (anyone else becoming best friends with their DHL delivery driver?). Boohoo itself has enjoyed high sales volumes during the Coronavirus lockdown, and their suppliers in Leicester will no doubt have been instrumental in achieving that. To think that the people working in those factories may have not only been putting themselves at risk by going to work while the rest of us stay at home, but might also have been doing so for less than 50% of minimum wage, should be a wake-up call to us all.

We, like many in the industry I’m sure, await the outcome of the review with bated breath.

My colleagues Bryony Long and Lauren Shrubb have previously written about the implications when retail supply chains go wrong, to access the article click here.