Boots has ended its commitment to industry-recognised ethical trading standards designed to protect workers from exploitation and forced labour.
The retailer's decision to pullout of the Ethical Trading Initiative has sparked criticism that the company could now cut labour costs and standards within its supply chain.
Dan Rees, director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, said: "We are deeply disappointed that Boots have taken this decision, particularly at such a crucial time for the world's most vulnerable workers, who are bearing the brunt of the global downturn.
"The days when high-profile businesses could consider ethical trade as an optional extra are now gone. In our view, it is not the right time for major brands to be rolling back their commitments on labour standards, nor does it make good business sense."
But a spokeswoman for Boots said the company's move did not mean it was neglecting its commitment to ethical trading standards.
She said: "After careful consideration Boots UK has decided not to renew its membership of Ethical Trading Initiative. The reasoning for this is because it only concentrates on labour standards and at Boots UK we focus on all aspects of sustainability, with labour standards only one aspect of many that we need to consider.
"This does not mean that we do not take the matter of labour standards in our supply chain seriously."
The high street retailer said it was now working with Business in the Community to set a benchmark for responsible supply chain management.
The Ethical Trading Initiative was set up 10 years ago to tackle the use of sweatshops, and has 52 members including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer.