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Press Release

21 Oct 2021

QC says Boohoo could have been liable for human rights breaches under a new UK law

UNDER STRICT EMBARGO 22 October 2021 / 00:00 BST

PRESS RELEASE

QC says Boohoo could have been liable for human rights breaches under a new UK law

London, UK: A new legal opinion on Boohoo’s Leicester supply chain finds the fast fashion brand could have been held liable under a UK mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence law called for by rights groups.

The publication of the review comes at the same time as more than 30 leading UK businesses and investors such as ASOS, Primark, John Lewis and Tesco call on the Government to introduce a new mHRDD law.

The opinion by Tim Otty QC and Naina Patel of Blackstone Chambers - commissioned by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Corporate Justice Coalition - builds on the finding in Boohoo’s own review into its supply chain that: “There may be evidence of breaches of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

In the opinion, Otty and Patel say: “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.”

They add: “However, Boohoo’s story is a compelling example of a situation in which such legislation might have made a difference, either by encouraging appropriate action to be taken earlier or by providing a means of redress for those affected by the allegations found to be substantially true.”

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) have no force of law in the UK, and as Boohoo’s review notes: “...thus a breach could not by and of itself amount to the commission of a criminal offence”.

The review from Blackstone Chambers notes that various organisations and institutions have called for or analysed the potential of the UNGPs being incorporated into a new UK law, including the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. It also notes the development of such laws in other jurisdictions including France, Finland, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Head of Labour Rights at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Hundreds of garment workers making clothes for Boohoo suffered under exploitative conditions and this extraordinary governance gap leaves no way to hold the company to account. The UK is lagging far behind a number of other countries on taking action.”

Boohoo’s story is a compelling example of a situation in which such legislation might have made a difference, either by encouraging appropriate action to be taken earlier or by providing a means of redress for those affected by the allegations found to be substantially true.”

Mark Dearn, Director of Corporate Justice Coalition, said: “It’s abundantly clear that our current laws are simply not fit for purpose in stopping supply chain abuses of human rights, at home or abroad - the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner herself said she was struck by the irrelevance of the Modern Slavery Act to the debate around Boohoo.

“Other countries are pressing ahead with the new laws we desperately need to keep pace with the changing face of business, rights groups are demanding a new law and businesses themselves want a new law.

Media contacts: Priyanka Mogul, Media Officer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre,

+44 (0) 7880 956 239, [email protected]

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Head of Labour Rights, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, +44 (0) 7724 58 0885, [email protected]