A snapshot of modern slavery in the fashion industry

What can brands & individuals do about it!

40.3 million people are trapped in modern slavery. Tackling one of the world’s largest and most complex human rights issues requires serious strategic thinking. This is the difference you can make.

The Global Slavery Index’s 2018 report, published by the Walk Free Foundation, states that $127.7 billion worth of garments at risk of including modern slavery in their supply chain is imported annually by G20 countries, today accountable for 80% of world trade.

modern slavery worldwide infographic global slavery index 2018
Credit infographic: The Economist – Based on the Global Slavery Index 2018
#ModernSlavery is not something that happens “over there” that we don’t have to think about. If we care about the people who make your products we can make a difference @WalkFreeFdn co-founder Grace Forrest #FairTrade… Share on X

The shocking numbers: 40.3 million people are trapped in modern slavery, for which an abrupt 71% are women (data 2016).

modern slavery children women exploitation fashion revolution 2019 events
Credit: Reuters Agency

Hidden causes of modern slavery

Currently, modern slavery is linked to the hazy supply chains of many industries including electronics, agriculture and fashion. This 30 billion dollar industry and its large contribution to modern slavery are fuelled by:

  • Cost pressures (the greater the pressure is on suppliers means greater pressure on workers)
  • Highly competitive environments
  • Fluctuating supply and demand for labour
  • Long supply chains, loss of transparency
  • Indirect procurement

Modern slavery in fashion can come in any from across the supply chain: sewing the clothing, converting the fibre to yarn or even harvesting the cotton!

modern slavery children women exploitation fashion revolution 2019 events

The major a fashion brand is, the more likely they don’t have control over their supply chain (more collections, more processes, more contractors involved), so tracing every single step involved from harvesting, production to delivery of the final garment makes it quite difficult. And this is the reason why it makes it easier to get illegal activities unnoticed.

Tackling one of the world’s largest and most complex human rights issues requires serious strategic thinking. Of course, consumers have a voice, but asking them to change the industry from the core is like asking passengers to drive the planes. This is why we are persistently requesting brands to operate ethically, and that involves not putting pressure on suppliers, and understanding their own supply chain by taking control over it.

Learn about some current federal laws in the US – The Trafficking Victims Protection Act 

modern slavery children women exploitation fashion revolution 2019 events
Credit: Walk Free Foundation

How brands can report: the Modern Slavery Act’s criteria

The Modern Slavery Act of 2016 requires that businesses of a certain size publish what they’re doing to combat slave labor in their supply chains. These are the key questions large brands (including fashion) need to answer:

  1. Description of what the entity is.
  2. The entity’s structure, its operations and its supply chains – this means you understand your supply chain.
  3. The Modern Slavery risks present in the entity’s operations and supply chains – this means you understand the risks.
  4. Policies and process to address Modern Slavery risks in its operations and supply chains – you have a plan.
  5. Describe how the reporting entity assesses the effectiveness of such actions (to assess risks) – you’re measuring your progress.
  6. Describe the process of consultation with entities the reporting entity owns/controls.
modern slavery children women exploitation fashion revolution 2019 events
Credit: Report #ThisIsNotWorking care.org.au

How can you mitigate modern slavery from your business?

  • Updating procurement policies, for example, issuing a Code of Ethical Purchasing
  • Including a list of minimum requirements in contracts
  • Reviewing and updating your tender evaluation process
  • Create management plans
  • Engage and inform the executive and the board
  • Tailored education for staff
  • Supplier engagement

If you research the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, you’ll be able to review the 150 biggest global brands and retailers ranked according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impact

There is a reason why today it’s very rare to see “Made in the USA, Italy, London, Australia…” label and the whole reason behind this is because since the late 1990s multinational fashion brands have outsourced their apparel manufacturing to low-cost locations. Large fashion brands have taken away the manufacturing from their very own countries, involving a massive crisis when it comes to employment. While these brands have gone somewhere else (this is Asia, mainly) they have largely contributed to the current model making modern slavery a widespread issue.

Producing cheap has resulted in garments becoming very cheap for consumers, which has created a situation where smaller fashion brands also had to outsource to become competitive. A ripple effect that has severely removed for brands to even have the option to produce in their own countries – basically because the manufacturing has faded. And consumers, indirectly, we are supporting modern slavery in a crucial way through the choice of clothing, tech, other commodities, or even tourism.

Walk Free Foundation suggests, with citizens and governments everywhere acknowledging that we’re all implicated in this mess.

“Too often, the onus of eliminating modern slavery is placed only on the countries where the crime is perpetrated. They certainly have a responsibility, but they are not alone in this regard. An atrocity as large and pervasive as modern slavery requires a united, global response.” Global Slavery Index

The good news is that the Fashion Revolution is a global movement led by citizens that campaign for a fashion industry that conserves and restores our environment and gives people, especially women, a voice. An industry where dignity in work is the standard and not an exception. Start by asking brands #WhoMadeMyClothes?!

#WhoMadeMyClothes Fashion Revolution Label Activism

Are you already taking part in Fashion Revolution this year? Share with us your initiatives and events in the comments below!

Other articles you’ll love:

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    2. #WhoMadeMyClothes | The Fashion Revolution Week for everyone!
    3. The revolutionizing fashion recycling app to ReGAIN with discount codes
    4. The real impact of the fast fashion industry on the world
    5. The positive impact of Gen Z on sustainable fashion

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One Comment

  1. Fish don’t form spines any more…if they are living at all. Waterways are all destroyed. Food and plants are all destroyed. All outdoor recreation has been turned into a smothering parasitic crisis. There are not any men left they are also spineless. I don’t know what you would call the false females. Unlike the beast elite lives by AIDS rape slum sewage is not soil…

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