Pakistan welcomes fast-fashion brand Boohoo despite poor staff safety claims

Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, has reportedly asked the British fast-fashion brand Boohoo to increase its presence in the country, despite claims that it has failed to tackle poor conditions at its suppliers’ factories there.

In a meeting with Kakar this week, Mahmud Kamani, chairman of Boohoo Group, expressed an interest in establishing long-term buying linkages with Pakistan, according to Radio Pakistan.

Kakar pointed out Pakistan’s pro-investment policies and facilities, and invited Boohoo to open franchises in the country, which is in economic turmoil, with a record inflation rate of 36.4%.

A Guardian investigation in 2020 found that the online retailer was selling clothes made by Pakistani factory workers who said they earned as little as 29p an hour.

It also found claims of fire risks and general safety issues, with workers saying they sometimes worked 24-hour shifts.

Boohoo suspended a supplier while it investigated the claims and said it would not tolerate any instance of mistreatment or underpayment of garment workers.

However, further damaging claims were made this week in a report by Labour Behind the Label, which campaigns for workers’ rights in the clothing industry. It said factories used by some of the world’s biggest fashion brands, including Boohoo, were routinely violating minimum-wage requirements and workers’ rights in Pakistan.

The report alleged that garment factories were employing workers in less formal ways to reduce risks and cut costs, with more than a third of workers surveyed paid less than the minimum wage – equivalent to £68 a month.

It also claimed health and safety violations were endemic at the factories studied, with audits routinely failing to identify violations and flag risks.

“Definitely, there is a need for investment, and Boohoo should invest in Pakistan. Many workers have been fired since Covid-19 and workers can’t make ends meet in this unprecedented inflation,” said Zehra Khan, the report’s author and general secretary of the Home-based Women Workers’ Federation in Pakistan.

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“But Pakistan should make policies which ensure that businesses flourish, and the policies should be pro-workers and employees and employers,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Boohoo Group said the report had raised “important issues for the industry” and that it remained committed to working closely with its suppliers to ensure that all garment workers had safe working conditions.

“We have a strong auditing programme in place to support this and where possible work with our suppliers to remediate issues where a supplier is found to have been in breach of our code of conduct. We will continue to work with suppliers and industry partners in the region to protect and improve labour standards.”