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Boohoo founder’s links to Leicester ‘slave’ factory revealed

A co-founder of fashion retailer Boohoo has links to a factory in Leicester accused of paying staff less than the minimum wage, it has been revealed.

The brand has confirmed that the factory at the heart of the ‘human trafficking and slavery’ allegations is run by Morefray Ltd, a Manchester-owned firm with ties to the I Saw It First fashion firm. 

I Saw It First was set up by Jalal Kamani, 60, who founded Boohoo with his brother Mahmud, 55.

A director of I Saw It First and Jalal’s business partner owns 50 per cent of Morefray, laying bare the links between Boohoo and the ‘slave’ factory.  

The revelation is sure to heap more pressure on £2.6billion business Bohoo, which is currently embroiled in allegations of ‘modern slavery and human trafficking’ and of not providing workers with protection against coronavirus. 

Boohoo launched an urgent investigation into its supply chain this week. 

Morefray operates the 'slave' factory in Leicester that supplies clothes to Boohoo. Morefray is part-owned by the business partner of Jalal Kamani, who founded Boohoo with his brother Mahmud

Morefray operates the 'slave' factory in Leicester that supplies clothes to Boohoo. Morefray is part-owned by the business partner of Jalal Kamani, who founded Boohoo with his brother Mahmud

Morefray operates the ‘slave’ factory in Leicester that supplies clothes to Boohoo. Morefray is part-owned by the business partner of Jalal Kamani, who founded Boohoo with his brother Mahmud

Boohoo founder Mahmud Kamani, pictured right, alongside his son Umar. Mahmud co-found the company with his brother Jalal Kamani, whose links to a 'slave' factory in Leicester have been revealed

Boohoo founder Mahmud Kamani, pictured right, alongside his son Umar. Mahmud co-found the company with his brother Jalal Kamani, whose links to a 'slave' factory in Leicester have been revealed

Boohoo founder Mahmud Kamani, pictured right, alongside his son Umar. Mahmud co-found the company with his brother Jalal Kamani, whose links to a ‘slave’ factory in Leicester have been revealed

Factory workers at Faiza Fashion in Leicester - where Boohoo and PLT clothing is allegedly made - operate their sewing machines despite the risk of contracting Covid-19

Factory workers at Faiza Fashion in Leicester - where Boohoo and PLT clothing is allegedly made - operate their sewing machines despite the risk of contracting Covid-19

Factory workers at Faiza Fashion in Leicester – where Boohoo and PLT clothing is allegedly made – operate their sewing machines despite the risk of contracting Covid-19 

It added it was trying to identify the company at the centre of the allegations and, after being approached by the Guardian, it has confirmed that company was Morefray.

A Companies House filing has linked Morefray to Boohoo founding director Jalal Kamani, who retains a shareholding at the company.  

Morefray is 50 per cent owned by a Manchester-based firm called I5 Holdings, which is owned by Shahzad Irshad, a director of I Saw It First and Jalal Kamani’s business partner. 

Companies House filings also show that Irshad became the owner of I5 Holdings on June 10, when he took control from Zogan Limited, a company that shares three current or former directors with I Saw It First. 

One of Zogan’s directors is listed as ‘head of tax’ at the Kamani Group on LinkedIn. 

The complex web establishes ties between Morefray and I Saw It First, which Jalal Kamani founded in 2017 after helping establish Boohoo.

An undercover reporter working at the Morefray factory was told to expect pay of £3.50 an hour. 

Pictured: Workers at the Faiza Fashion factory in Leicester continue to work despite the newly reimposed lockdown

Pictured: Workers at the Faiza Fashion factory in Leicester continue to work despite the newly reimposed lockdown

Pictured: Workers at the Faiza Fashion factory in Leicester continue to work despite the newly reimposed lockdown

Umar Kamani CEO & Founder PrettyLittleThing.com posted this image on his Instagram page of him on his Rolls-Royce Dawn in Beverly Hills

Umar Kamani CEO & Founder PrettyLittleThing.com posted this image on his Instagram page of him on his Rolls-Royce Dawn in Beverly Hills

Umar Kamani CEO & Founder PrettyLittleThing.com posted this image on his Instagram page of him on his Rolls-Royce Dawn in Beverly Hills

When contacted by the Guardian, Morefray declined to comment.  

A spokesman for I Saw It First said: ‘I5 Holdings Limited owns a non-controlling shareholding in Morefray Limited.’  

A Boohoo spokesman said: ‘Morefray is a recognised supplier to Boohoo and we have never previously been aware of any allegations of paying below the minimum wage until the media report.

‘As a result of that report and subsequent discovery that it was Morefray and not the company in the media report, we are immediately visiting the Morefray site to investigate further.’

On Wednesday, Boohoo announced an independent review of its UK supply chain. The review, led by Alison Levitt QC, will be accompanied by a £10m investment in ‘eradicating malpractice’ in its supply chain. 

Boohoo’s shares have plunged by £1.3 billion amid allegations that it was using sweatshops in Leicester to produce cheap clothing during the coronavirus pandemic.

An employee at Faiza Fashion – a factory allegedly producing clothes for Boohoo and Mahmud’s sons’ retailer Pretty Little Thing – told how the factory did not provided its workers with face masks or gloves.

And The Sunday Times reported allegations that workers in a second factory, which makes clothes for Boohoo brand Nasty Gal, were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour and operating without social distancing measures in place.

Umar Kamani, pictured with Tulisa Contostavlos, is regularly seen mixing with celebrities

Umar Kamani, pictured with Tulisa Contostavlos, is regularly seen mixing with celebrities

Umar Kamani, pictured with Tulisa Contostavlos, is regularly seen mixing with celebrities

In covert footage, the undercover reporter recorded himself packing garments clearly labelled as ‘Nasty Gal’.

He was also approached by the factory foreman, who warned: ‘These motherf***ers know how to exploit people like us. They make profits like hell and pay us in peanuts.

‘Take me for instance, I’ve been working for so many years in this industry, I’ve been here for five years but never could I take a proper pay packet. I’m still only on just over £5 an hour.’ 

The findings have prompted an investigation by the National Crime Agency, with the allegations labelled ‘truly appalling’ by Home Secretary Priti Patel. 

Ms Patel today instructed the National Crime Agency to probe the issues and vowed to clamp down on modern slavery in Britain. 

It came as Leicester’s coronavirus cases spiralled in June and claims that these factories were producing items for some of the UK’s biggest fashion brands including Boohoo and Nasty Gal while putting staff at risk of contracting Covid-19. 

Such is Umar's self-belief that when he wanted to launch PLT in the US three years ago, he offered a six-figure sum to reality TV star Kylie Jenner (pictured), half-sister of Kim Kardashian, to appear in one of his £15 orange dresses

Such is Umar's self-belief that when he wanted to launch PLT in the US three years ago, he offered a six-figure sum to reality TV star Kylie Jenner (pictured), half-sister of Kim Kardashian, to appear in one of his £15 orange dresses

Such is Umar’s self-belief that when he wanted to launch PLT in the US three years ago, he offered a six-figure sum to reality TV star Kylie Jenner (pictured), half-sister of Kim Kardashian, to appear in one of his £15 orange dresses

Umar poses with Little Mix at the launch of the girl band's Pretty Little Thing collection at an exclusive party at Aynhoe Park House in Banbury last year

Umar poses with Little Mix at the launch of the girl band's Pretty Little Thing collection at an exclusive party at Aynhoe Park House in Banbury last year

Umar poses with Little Mix at the launch of the girl band’s Pretty Little Thing collection at an exclusive party at Aynhoe Park House in Banbury last year

An NCA spokesman said: ‘Within the last few days NCA officers, along with Leicestershire Police and other partner agencies, attended a number of business premises in Leicester area to assess concerns of modern slavery and human trafficking’.

Faiza Fashion manager Asim Ali, told MailOnline that all the garments they manufacture are for Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing (PLT). 

He said: ‘All our work is for these two companies and it is the same for all the other garment manufacturers in Leicester. We do not deal directly with them but are given the orders by middle companies who liaise with them.

‘We opened earlier than expected during the first lockdown because there was such an increase in online clothes shopping. Since then, work has not stopped. We are inundated with orders because so many people are buying online.’

Umar shared a look inside PLT's 650,000 sq ft warehouse. PLT has helped 32-year-old Umar, develop a personal wealth of more than £1 billion

Umar shared a look inside PLT's 650,000 sq ft warehouse. PLT has helped 32-year-old Umar, develop a personal wealth of more than £1 billion

Umar shared a look inside PLT’s 650,000 sq ft warehouse. PLT has helped 32-year-old Umar, develop a personal wealth of more than £1 billion

Mr Ali added: ‘In the old days we used to get orders for high street shops but all of that has now stopped. The fashion industry has now changed, there are constant demands for new lines which means we have to work even harder to make clothes.’  

PLT was founded by Mahmud’s sons Adam and Umar in 2012 following the enormous success of their father’s business and reported a turnover of £374million in 2018.

By 2022, the company is forecast to be worth around £2.1billion. 

The Boohoo Group bought a 34 per cent stake in PLT for £269.8 million in May.

In 2018, the company was called by MPs – alongside Boohoo, Amazon, Asos, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided – to give evidence in an inquiry into the fast fashion industry, The Mirror reports.  

Mahmud’s parents, who were originally from India, arrived in Manchester from Kenya in 1969 when his father was just two years old. 

The Kamanis were forced to flee to Britain by increasing unrest and draconian employment laws that favoured native Kenyans. 

Entrepreneurial Mahmud sold handbags on a market stall. He invested his money wisely in property and began a wholesale business, Pinstripe, sourcing garments from India.

By the early 2000s, the company was selling £50 million-worth a year to high street brands such as Topshop and Primark, which led to Mahmud setting up the Boohoo brand in 2006. The company’s growth quickly skyrocketed.

According to a report by ethicalconsumer.org, Boohoo’s CEO John Lyttle is set to get a £1.04million fee and – if he can increase the value of the company’s shares – a £50million share of his own.

Boohoo’s share value increased by 22 per cent during lockdown as more people turned to at-home online shopping, the report stated. 

Furthermore, senior executives could see increases in salaries between 18 and 30 per cent.

Tatler named PLT co-founder Umar Kamani its eighth most eligible bachelor for 2019, alongside the Duke of Roxburghe and former One Direction star Harry Styles.

His lifestyle is decidedly jet-set, with his contacts book brimming with A-list stars such as Jennifer Lopez, rapper P Diddy and actor Denzel Washington. 

Such is his self-belief that when he wanted to launch PLT in the US three years ago, he offered a six-figure sum to reality TV star Kylie Jenner, half-sister of Kim Kardashian, to appear in one of his £15 orange dresses.

‘It’s all about the hustle,’ he says, with a shrug. ‘I knew I wanted to be in those circles because I’m obsessed with power.’

Power duly followed. The Kylie Jenner coup led to sales increasing ten-fold and allowed him to buy a seven-bedroom mansion in the Hollywood Hills, complete with basketball court.

His Instagram account reveals the very caricature of a playboy – lunching at Nobu in Malibu wearing Gucci slippers, hanging out with P Diddy at the Grammys and Kylie Jenner at Coachella music festival, and posing at the wheel of a yacht on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

‘A lot of these people are my friends,’ he says. ‘Will.I.Am is a really good mate – we FaceTime nearly every day – as is P Diddy. I was at the LA Lakers game with Denzel Washington a few weeks ago too.’

Love Island stars such as Molly-Mae Hague and girl band Little Mix are among the celebrities to have publicly endorsed the Pretty Little Thing brand in recent years, with other celebrities including Kylie Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Nicole Scherzinger and Paris Hilton also seen wearing the label.

It has helped 32-year-old Umar, develop a personal wealth of more than £1 billion.

His wealth has allowed him to buy a fleet of cars, including two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a £300,000 Lamborghini Aventador, a £92,000 customised G-Class Mercedes and a high-end Range Rover.

Umar hit the headlines in May after it was revealed that he furloughed 86 members of staff at his Manchester-based company – while he enjoyed a spa in Dubai.

He took the decision shortly after the lockdown in order to use the Government’s scheme, which used taxpayers’ money to pay workers 80 per cent of their usual income up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 

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