In 2019, the International Labor Organization revealed after a study on modern-day slavery, that more than 40 million people (of which about 70% are women) were exploited and enslaved around the world. This number comes from multiple industries, but the fashion industry is among the worst offenders, and garments are the second most exposed product category to modern slavery.
Modern slavery is a situation where a person is exploited and completely controlled by another person or organisation, without the ability to leave. Modern slavery includes forced labor, bonded labor, human trafficking, descent-based slavery, child slavery and child labor and forced and early marriage. Most of these are widespread across multiple stages of the fashion supply chain.
1. Nike and child labor
- In 1991, American labour activist Jeffrey Ballinger published a report on Nike’s factory practices in Indonesia, exposing a scandal: below-minimum wages, child labour and appalling conditions likened to a sweatshop – a factory or workshop where employees work long hours for low money in conditions that are hazardous to health.
- In 2016, Syrian children were found working without protection in factories in which Nike and other brands such as H&M, Adidas, Mango subcontract as revealed by an investigation of the NGO “Business and Human Rights Resource Center.”
- A 2018 report by the Clean Clothes Campaign, found that Adidas and Nike still pay “poverty” wages to workers. The report called on both Nike and Adidas to commit to paying “living” wages (the amount of income needed to provide a decent standard of living) to its workers.
- Nike has been criticized for its employment of child labor in Cambodia, but the company defended itself by saying fake evidence of age could be bought in Cambodia for as little as $5.
2. The Uyghur community and forced labor
- According to the Washington-based Uyghur Human Right Project, Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking community living in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, are being put into internment camps and forced to work under threats and isolation by the Chinese government. The Xinjiang region represents about 20% of the cotton used in the world, and brands that buy this cotton are participating in this crisis of human rights.
- Brands such as Zara or H&M are suspected of forcing Uyghur people to work for them as evidenced by the report published in March 2020 by the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China.
3. Boohoo does not pay its employees properly
- In Leicester, England, Boohoo is accused of paying its employees in a clothing factory only 3.50 pounds sterling per hour (3.86 euros) when the legal minimum wage is 8.72 pounds sterling (9.20 euros), more than double what the employees were paid. The Boohoo case is unfortunately not isolated and shows us that issues around forced labor are not only problems in developing countries, but in the West as well.
- A quote from a former Boohoo employee “That afternoon a fellow worker passed on a warning, you are not to tell anyone about working here,” he said, “You are working here illegally, so do not discuss or say anything with other people. You have to be discreet. Don’t discuss this with anyone at all.” – The Sunday Times
The fashion industry is not the only industry profiting from slave labor
In the new Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, a documentary about the environmental consequences of fishing, it is exposed that sometimes the people on the fishing boats are people who have been kidnapped and made slaves. In the film we see a fisherman in Southeast Asia writing a message with shrimp blood saying “please come” so that drones could read it. The point of this is to show that when an industry becomes too big, the first expendable resource becomes human labor.
Slavery in modern industries is much more present than one might think. Powerful companies, under the guise of capitalism, use human misery and poverty to impose disastrous working conditions on these workers, reducing them to slaves, all for capitalistic gain in the West. If a brand is not transparent about how and where their clothing is made then one can only assume that it is bad enough to hide. The question then becomes, how can we consume consciously, and only from the brands that are authentically sustainable, when there is so much sustainability greenwashing happening?’
Chez SANNA, our curation revolves around ethical production. We realize that a brand cannot be sustainable if it is not first ethical. All the brands we collaborate with are transparent in their production methods, and abide by one of our four sustainability principles, so that you can consumer in alignment with your personal values.