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Risk of forced labour in clothing industry increases

Jun 24, 2021
Risk of forced labour in clothing industry increases

Sheffield, England

With the Covid-19 situation prevailing in the world, the living and working conditions for the workers in the garment supply chains have caused an increase in the risk of forced labour, says a report of University of Sheffield.

The workers in India, Myanmar, Honduras, and Ethiopia were severely affected by the pandemic. These workers produce branded clothes in the UK and Europe says the report from the University of Sheffield. The workers have reported a decline in their earnings and working conditions and have experienced being at the risk of forced labour during the time of the pandemic.

According to Genevieve LeBaron, Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, The University of Sheffield, there is no common definition of what is forced labour. She also feels that people cannot be made to work again their will in modern times. People might end up in a job that they are unable to leave because of multiple reasons like false promises, the threat of penalties, poor pay, bonding the person into debt, and deception to keep a person working in worse conditions.

The study showed that both the groups, one who remained employed and the other who lost their jobs, experienced signs of forced labour. It was also highlighted that the companies fail to offer a good working environment during the pandemic.

Many businesses within the garment industry didn’t fulfil commitments like offering fair working conditions, sourcing sustainable goods from manufacturers, and no use of exploitation. The current government regulations are also not enough to protect the workers’ conditions.

LeBaron also said that during the pandemic, many companies in the garment industry have accessed emergency funding but they didn’t honour the social responsibility towards the workers in the supply chain. It was added that at the beginning many orders were cancelled due to which workers were removed from their jobs. These workers became vulnerable to exploitation as they were desperate to find a new job. Those who managed to retain their jobs experienced worsening working conditions and pay.

Manufacturers have also taken legal actions against the companies which have cancelled the orders worth millions of pounds during the pandemic. According to the report, the government has been asked to increase the governance of supply chains and retailers to address the damage caused due to the pandemic.

LeBaron also said that as per the reports, the retail companies have tried to shift the burden of the losses caused during the pandemic onto their suppliers and workers who couldn’t afford it. These companies have deep pockets and they can take actions to address the social challenges caused by the pandemic. The suppliers are forced to use unfair labour practices because of the Banning the sale of below-cost price and forced labour made goods.

According to Penelope Kyritsis, Director, Strategic Research, The Worker Rights Consortium, the findings show that most apparel companies are rebounding from the crisis but the impact of brand’s response at the outlets is enduring. The garment workers have to under huge levels of debt which they are unable to repay because of low wages. The apparel brands should take some action if they want to eliminate this continuing suffering across the supply chain.  He feels that the industry is financially capable of ensuring that the workers across the apparel supply chain should not suffer ad are protected from the risk of forced labour.

As per Jakub Sobik, Communications Director, the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, the report highlights the unequal impact of Covid-19 across the supply chains and that there is a need to protect the workers from exploitation. He also said that the businesses should take some actions to rectify the situation and also develop various responses for the future.

Source – The University of Sheffield

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