Fashion is the ideal way to express ourselves without using any words. It is a harmless form of art that allows everyone to exhibit their personalities. Yet, with globalization, fast fashion, off-shore production, as well as greed, the industry turned into something far more vile and tragic. The world’s cheap, easy and abundant consumption of fashion products cost is far higher than a mere stack of green paper. Today, the fashion global industry is equivalent to modern slavery, with the environment and third-world countries paying the steep price.
“Labour abuse is baked into the supply-chain model championed by apparel giants,” said Penelope Kyritsis, research director at the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights monitoring organization.
Intensive modern slavery
According to the world bank group, the fashion sector employs more than sixty million people from around the globe. With the Global Slavery index estimating a total of 40 million people suffering from modern slavery, many of them are workers in chains of western clothing brands. Though laws don’t exactly define modern slavery, many advocates agree that it “covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labor, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices and human trafficking.”
These workers aren’t only underpaid, but they are also working in risky conditions. Thus, after a full day of intensive labor, most of them can barely afford essentials while living in highly polluted areas.
When money becomes the only factor to consider, accountability withers away. Almost all of the global fashion institutions claim to follow codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards. Yet, almost none of them are doing much to prevent forced labor or ensure better outcomes for workers. Even worse, according to advocacy group KnowTheChain, the ones specialized in luxury brands are the most guilty of this crime.
The advocacy group even released a report, ranking some of the world’s biggest fashion companies on a scale of 0 to 100, judging their efforts to fight forced labor and bad work conditions. The rank 100 represents the company with the best practices.
In its report, KnowTheChain declared that at least half the examined companies are guilty of these allegations. “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. Moreover, the average score of luxury brands was 31 out of 100.
Are you ready to know whether your favorite fashion chain endorses such inhumane practices? The owner of the Alexander McQueen and Gucci labels, French luxury goods company Kering, scored 41 out of 100. However, LVMH, owner of the Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton labels, recorded a 19 out of 100. The company owning Coach and Kate Spade labels, Tapestry, recorded 16 out of 100. On the other hand, the Italian luxury fashion house, Prada, ranked only 5 out of 100.
The coronavirus’s role
As data remain new, it is important to shed light on COVID-19’s role in worsening the condition. “This dynamic has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, when apparel brands sought to minimize their economic fallout by abruptly canceling orders from their supplier factories, which led to mass layoffs, pushing workers towards the brink of destitution,” Kyritsis said.
Forcing adults to work in slave-like conditions isn’t even the industry’s greatest offense. According to UNICEF, the fashion industry pray on children’s vulnerability and situation to employ them in the garment factories. With kids being the cheapest, the easiest to manipulate, and the most obedient source of labor, they make the ideal workers.
For example, in India, recruiters often convince parents in impoverished rural areas to send their daughters to work in spinning mills. They lure both the parents and the kids with false promises of a well-paid job, along with comfortable accommodation, three meals a day, and opportunities for training and schooling. Yet, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) reports reveal that “in reality, they are working under appalling conditions that amount to modern-day slavery and the worst forms of child labor.”
“There is no supervision or social control mechanisms, no unions that can help them to bargain for better working conditions. These are very low-skilled workers without a voice, so they are easy targets,” stated Ovaa, global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour.