Australian garment industry lacks transparency on modern slavery
A recent report released by Walk Free, an international human rights group led by Grace Forrest, revealed some sobering facts about the Australian garment industry and its relationship to modern slavery. Most salient is a troubling lack of transparency among the top 50 apparel companies in Australia and the UK.
Under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, companies in all sectors are required to provide statements on how they are actively addressing the issue of modern slavery. Over the course of 2021, Walk Free with WikiRate and a handful of academics from ANU, the University of Nottingham, Columbia University and the University of Connecticut, have combed through these statements in order to find out if garment companies met the basic requirements of current legislation, and identify if any have taken the initiative and gone further to enact meaningful changes.
Key findings from the report highlight that in Australia alone, only 31% of companies and their respective filings meet the minimum approval requirements and reporting criteria. Additionally, only 61% of luxury companies revealed that their approach to modern slavery is informed and tailored to address the specific risks of the apparel industry. This is surprising compared to non-luxury companies that sit at 85%.
Additionally, Walk Free suspects that companies are treating such statements as a mere “checkmark exercise”, with only 65% revealing that they have detected modern slavery risks. This skews the data and Walk Free predicts that there are more incidents than reported because the companies are not fully transparent.
As one might have predicted, the pandemic has only heightened the risk of exploitation of garment workers. With a significant increase in shipment cancellations, as well as canceled manufacturing orders and factory shutdowns spurred by global shutdowns, companies have suffered huge financial losses. The Walk Free report found that workers were bearing the brunt of these losses, which for many meant pay cuts and canceled contracts, or on the other hand, extended hours and being forced to work despite the risk of contracting it. the Covid-19. Additionally, 43% of company statements did not detail any positive measures taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the supply chain and their workers.
One of the main reasons for completing this report was so that Walk Free could better understand what good practice looks like in action, in order to create a more targeted and industry-specific approach to tackling modern slavery in the world. clothing industry. The results point the way forward and underscore just how dire the situation is. All data used to compile this report is current as of November 1, 2021.
You can access the full report and its findings, as well as all of its recommendations online on the Walk Free website.