The global fashion and retail industry’s reliance on producing quick-turnaround goods at a low cost through outsourcing and complex, globalised supply chains has allowed forced labour to thrive, workers’ rights advocates warn, claiming that major fashion brands profiting from the model seem reluctant to change.
The apparel sector employs over 60 million workers worldwide, according to the World Bank Group. And while 97 percent of fashion and retail brands have codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards, such policies are neither effective in preventing forced labour nor in ensuring remedy outcomes for workers, according to advocacy group KnowTheChain.
KnowTheChain’s 2021 Apparel and Footwear Benchmark Report (PDF) recently ranked 37 of the world’s biggest fashion companies on a scale of 0 to 100 on their efforts to fight forced labour, with 100 representing the best practices.
The group identified allegations of forced labour in the supply chains of 54 per cent of companies it examined.
“What stood out to us is that the average score for the sector was 41 out of 100, which constitutes a significant failure to address risks,” Felicitas Weber, project director at KnowTheChain, told Al Jazeera.
The report also found that the world’s largest luxury brands are among the worst offenders in addressing the worse forms of exploitation in their supply chains, with an average score of 31 out of 100.
French luxury goods company Kering (owner of the Alexander McQueen and Gucci labels) scored 41 out of 100, while LVMH (owner of the Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton labels) scored 19 out of 100. Tapestry (owner of the Coach and Kate Spade labels), assessed for the first time this year, scored 16 out of 100.
Kering, LVMH and Tapestry did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.
Italian luxury fashion house Prada ranked at a mere 5 out of 100 on KnowTheChain’s benchmark, and its score has worsened over time.
But in a statement to Al Jazeera, Prada Group said it strives to push its standards higher and challenged KnowTheChain’s methodology.
Prada claims KnowTheChain does not take into account the fact that most of Prada’s factories are located in Italy, which allows it to closely monitor and address any misconduct or violations.
While KnowTheChain’s findings are striking, they aren’t surprising to workers’ rights advocates.
“Labour abuse is baked into the supply-chain model championed by apparel giants,” Penelope Kyritsis, research director at the Worker Rights Consortium, a labour rights monitoring organisation, told Al Jazeera.
By continually demanding shorter turnaround times and lower prices from their suppliers and fuelling competition among supplier factories, fashion and retail brands make it difficult for factory owners to adhere to labour laws and standards, she explained.
“This dynamic has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, when apparel brands sought to minimise their economic fallout by abruptly cancelling orders from their supplier factories, which led to mass layoffs, pushing workers towards the brink of destitution,” Kyritsis said.
The original full article can be found at aljazeera.com