LONDON – Mahmud Kamani, chairman and founder of online brand, Boohoo, appeared exasperated and tetchy as he was grilled by the UK Government’s environmental audit committee this week. The committee is investigating the impact of fast fashion, and this was the first significant public appearance Kamani has faced since the scandal around sweatshop conditions among some of Boohoo’s Leicester suppliers broke this summer.
Viewers of the debate expecting some contrition from Kamani were left disappointed. On the contrary, he made clear that he felt the Leicester economy should be grateful to have Boohoo as a customer. “It would be very easy for us to move out of Leicester,” he said. “We are still here. We sometimes feel we are getting punished for it. We are here to support Leicester but please don’t keep punishing us for it.”
Earlier this year, Kumani and his colleagues claimed to have been “shocked and appalled” by a Sunday Times investigation which offered evidence of modern slavery in Boohoo supply chains in July.
However, third-party audit reports obtained by the Guardian – and dating back to 2017 – found that a range of issues have been highlighted in audits on Boohoo suppliers. Moreover, issues within the Leicester garment industry around modern slavery an open secret within the industry.
When this anomaly was repeatedly put to Kamani he responded: “We were shocked and appalled that’s why we said it – we are not making things up here. None of these factories belong to us. There is no exclusive agreement with boohoo. They supply everybody else.”
Kamani repeatedly told MPs that his company was “committed to making good.” He added: “We will make Leicester right, we will make things correct. That I promise you.”
At times, Kamani appeared to simply be repeating the same mantra, particularly when pressed on specifics. Towards the end of the grilling, he seemed to stop making any attempt to answer specific questions, simply stating, “we will make it right,” while seemingly close to having a full on temper tantrum.
Kamani claimed an independent report by Alison Levitt QC – which found that Boohoo was responsible for “inexcusable” failures, with a series of red flags being ignored, and prompted an apology – “stated there was no wrongdoing on Boohoo’s behalf.”
Few who have read this report would come to the same conclusion.
Kamani told the enquiry it has got rid of 64 suppliers since the beginning of the year but repeatedly refused to say whether that was because they had been found not to be paying the minimum wage.
Asked why he would not tell MPs the reason for ditching these suppliers, Andrew Reaney, Boohoo’s responsible sourcing and product operations director, suggested to MPs he did not want to name individual suppliers. MPs made clear they did not want names, they just wanted to know why the suppliers were ditched and whether it was because they were not paying the national minimum wage. Reaney would not budge.
In the meantime, Reaney and Kamani continued to tell MPs they were committed to transparency.
Finally, MPs asked the reasonable question of how many of the Levitt enquiry’s 17 recommendations it had implemented, Kamani again responded tetchily. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “I cannot possibly know everything in this business. It is a work in progress.”