How to abolish modern day slavery from global garment supply chains

  • Written by Peter Needle
  • Published on 24 May 2018
  • Our Voice

No responsible business wants modern day slavery in their supply chain, but how can ethical clothing companies address the issue of forced labour?

Modern day slavery

Anti-Slavery Day was observed last week on October 18th, raising awareness of modern day slavery within the UK government, local authorities, public bodies and private companies.

Slavery was abolished over two centuries ago, yet it is thought that millions of people are in conditions of forced labour all across the world.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently estimated that around 21 million people are in forced labour, turning a total annual profit of US $150 billion. Of this, $99 billion is thought to come from sexual exploitation, while the rest is a result of forced labour. $34 billion comes from construction, mining and manufacturing industries (such as the garment industry), while $9 billion comes from agricultural activity and $8 billion from domestic work in private households.

Forced labour hits close to home

Many people may automatically think of poor developing countries in relation to forced labour, but eventhe UK is thought to have over 4,000 modern day slaves according to the Global Slavery Index 2013.

Segura’s charity partner Unchosen recently held its annual short-film competition to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery. This year’s judging panel included Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, National Policing Lead for Migration and Modern Slavery, and Darryl Dixon, Director of Strategy for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority – big names in the UK’s anti-slavery authorities.

Unchosen CEO Camilla Brown explained: “forced labour is just as prevalent as sexual exploitation, but far less understood and far less publicised.”

“With human trafficking, it is easy to polarize between innocent victims and demonised traffickers, but forced labour implies a supply chain role that affects and is affected by the general public. This makes it a consumer responsibility to address forced labour in the bid for supply chain transparency and ethical products.”

Supply chain transparency in the garment industry

Supply chain transparency isn’t just a concern for ethical clothing companies - it’s unlikely that a single retailer on the UK high street would defend forced labour or conditions of slavery. Most fashion brands now have extensive corporate responsibility policies which set ethical and environmental regulations for suppliers.

However, modern slavery can hide within muddled sourcing and manufacturing processes. This means that complex and fragmented supply chains can play host to conditions of forced labour without the retailers even being aware.

Modern slavery laws in the UK

The Modern Slavery Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in June, and will act to provide UK law enforcement with stronger tools to stamp out modern slavery, punish those responsible, and protect and support victims. However, Home Secretary Theresa May admitted that this legislation is only part of the solution.

She stated: “It also requires tireless and coordinated effort across government and law enforcement, work with other countries to tackle the problem at source, and increased awareness within all communities, including the business community.”

UK businesses are likely to feel increasing pressure to eliminate modern day slavery from their supply chains, with their reputation at risk if they are found to be sourcing from suppliers which use exploitative labour.

Segura’s solution for garment retailers

Segura’s supply chain technology can act as a framework for garment packaging orders, using a database of pre-approved suppliers authorised by the retailer. Manipulative manufacturers and unreliable suppliers can be easily identified, as retailers are immediately alerted to any supply chain anomalies.

In this way, Segura can provide garment retailers with supply chain transparency, and in turn, the ability to enforce ethical sourcing and compliance.

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