Risk of forced labor in the garment industry rises due to pandemic and industry response – Eurasia Review
The deterioration in the living and working conditions of workers in clothing supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the risk of forced labor, according to a new report from the University of Sheffield.
âThe uneven impacts of Covid-19 on global clothing supply chainsâ revealed that workers in Ethiopia, Honduras, India and Myanmar who produce many of the garments that we buy from our favorite brands in the UK and in Europe have been severely affected by the pandemic.
Both those who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs and those who lost their jobs in the past year and found a new job reported a sharp drop in their income and working conditions; and both groups experienced an increased risk of forced labor during this time.
The study is the largest to directly engage the voices of the people employed to make the clothes we buy in the UK during the pandemic, along with interviews with retailers and a review of company documentation. The precedents have focused only on the impact for multinational corporations (MNCs) that own big fashion brands and retailers. It uses a comprehensive new system to look for indicators that a person is vulnerable to forced labor.
Professor Genevieve LeBaron, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield, said: âThere is no commonly accepted definition of what constitutes forced labor, and contrary to the public perception of it. modern slavery, people cannot be held against their will. or trafficked without knowing it in their situation.
âThey can end up in a job that they can’t leave for a number of reasons; false promises and deception to keep a person at work in increasingly difficult conditions, threat of sanctions against the worker or his family if he leaves, or sometimes in debt to the manufacturer through a mediocre salary, the leaving to struggle to cover their basic needs for accommodation and food.
The study found that both groups of workers experienced indicators of forced labor, with the situation clearly deteriorating during the pandemic. He pointed out that many companies fell short of meeting their commitments to good practice; including sourcing sustainable products from manufacturers with fair working conditions, pay and no use of the farm.
Business actions by companies during the pandemic have highlighted how many business models within the garment industry fundamentally contradict these commitments, and that current government regulations do not go far enough to protect workers.
Although the study found that there were examples of companies acting in a way that honored their social commitments, these were mostly companies that directly owned factories or had long-standing partnerships with manufacturers. it was crucial to protect. In these cases, workers were more likely to keep jobs during the pandemic.
Professor LeBaron said: âIt appears that many companies in the clothing industry have accessed emergency funding during the pandemic, but have also provided little or no evidence that they have honored the social responsibilities that the Most of the brands we recognize have workers in their supply chains at the same time.
âAt the start of the pandemic, millions of pounds of canceled orders forced many manufacturers in places like Ethiopia to lay off staff, who then became vulnerable to exploitation in the desperate search for new jobs. .
Those fortunate enough to keep their jobs said they experienced a deterioration in working conditions and pay, exacerbating the already troubling inequalities between the countries that benefit from their work and the workers themselves.
Already, some manufacturers are pursuing legal actions against companies that canceled orders worth millions of pounds during the pandemic, and there are growing discussions about whether the conduct of clothing brands during the pandemic was legal.
The report calls on governments to strengthen the governance of supply chains and retailers to address the damage caused during the pandemic.
Professor LeBaron added, âOur report shows that retail companies have tried to offset the potential damage from the pandemic by passing the losses on to their suppliers and workers who could least afford it. Most of these companies have very deep pockets and must act immediately to address the social challenges that their responses to the pandemic have created.
âProhibit the sale of below-cost manufactured products and forced labor, ensure that companies relieve supply chain pressures that lead suppliers to use unfair labor practices and demand brands that they report on the public rescue funds received and how they were used. be a good start in forcing retailers to be more transparent about the way they work; help tackle the growing inequalities faced by supply chain workers who meet our demand for high-end, fast-paced fashion; and help consumers make more sustainable and ethical choices when shopping.
Jakub Sobik, communications director at the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Center (the Modern Slavery PEC), which funded the research as part of his call on the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery in the world, said:
âThis report highlights the uneven impact of Covid-19 on complex business supply chains and the need to do more to protect workers producing clothing sold around the world from exploitation.
âBusinesses should think about how their actions can rectify the situation and develop different responses for the future, while working with governments to ensure a level playing field for all businesses, encouraging those that are already applying the right ones. practice. “