Know Your Clothes

Slavery was abolished in the 1800s however there have never been more slaves in the world this is an unacceptable tragedy. A significant portion of the world’s slaves are forced clothing factory laborers, 75 million people (three-quarters of whom are women) work in the global garment industry. The international labor organization (ILO), rank the garment industry to be at very high risk of forced labor and slavery.

The US State Department has estimated that forced labor occurs in the nine countries producing 65% of the world’s cotton including India, China, and Uzbekistan. Cotton is the most common good to be produced using forced labor and sadly children are often hired to pick cotton because their small fingers are less likely to damage the crop.

A transparency initiative called, KnowTheChain is working in partnership with clothing companies to address and safeguard against instances of forced labor or slavery within production and supply chains. This initiative is an important resource for multinational garment companies, because most have no idea where their products originate from, even if they have anti forced labor policies, many factories sub-contract work. Thus it can be very difficult to accurately pin down a supply chain from the harvesting of cotton to the production of clothing.

KnowTheChain recently published a report investigating the supply chains of 20 major apparel companies, ranking each with a score out of 100 based on public data and information from the brands. Rankings were based on a range of safety indicators such as worker recruitment, labor rights, and auditing processes. Scores above 46 reflect initial steps taken to show awareness and address forced labor issues within the supply chain.

The report yielded fascinating results, a trend appeared in rankings; mid range companies such as Adidas, Gap, and H&M scored 81, 77, and 69 respectively, high scores suggesting robust efforts had been made to safeguard against forced labor. Whereas, high-end companies tended to rank significantly lower, Prada for instance, scored a weak nine out of 100.

The higher scores won by mid range brands are likely a forced reaction to the many production abuse scandals over the years raising public awareness to a point where ignoring the problem was no longer an option. It seems that luxury brands however have been quite shielded from such exposés and have avoided public backlash forcing them to address supply chain abuses. Of course it’s possible that Prada and other luxury brands have taken action to avoid forced labor in their supply chains in secret, although highly unlikely.

In sum there should be no place for slavery in the modern world and everyone owes a greater duty of care to humanity to take steps to eliminate it. Ask questions and do a little research, if everyone bothers to find out where and how their clothes were made and buys accordingly the market would be forced to react and unwilling brands could be pushed out. Do your part!

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