We think that with progressive times, human rights is something that has been dealt with, we believe that modern slavery has been abolished, a thing of the past and far from happening today in our own cities. We need to reconsider this. Today the number of people entrapped in human trafficking and forced labour is at its highest rate ever. We, as modern consumers have turned a blind eye to modern slavery thinking it is customary.
It is not acceptable to have more than 21 million victims of forced labour in supply chains globally. These victims are just like you and I, wanting to find decent work in order to sustain a living lifestyle for themselves and their families. As it should be everywhere, they want to be paid, to be respected and to be treated as an equal whilst at work.
Last month I attended a discussion panel at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, on a topic regarding whether fashion buyers have an impact in creating and demanding transparency in the supply chain. This evidently linked to the Modern Slavery Act, where Baroness Lola Young gave an insight to the campaigns she has contributed in preventing acts of modern slavery. As of 2015, Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Bill propositioned a clause that fashion operating establishments in United Kingdom with a turnover of £36 million or above are obliged to show a ‘statement on their efforts to rid their supply chain of slave labour.’ Despite the act only focusing on a particular section of the corporate fashion business, it is a step forward in raising awareness.
Since attending this talk, every time I visit a fashion-based website, I scroll to the end of the page and see if the modern slavery statement has been added. But, importantly I look at what measures these brands are taking to ensure modern slavery is actually eradicated from their supply chain. I’ve noticed that some brands compose clever phrases or are vague in the information shared; where as other brands thoroughly highlight what they are doing to tackle modern slavery.
As conscious consumers we need to be patient, as it is extremely challenging for an established brand to back track its supply chain and ensure their employees are not part of slave labour. We cannot expect results instantly; it will be a supplier or factory at a time.
Pressurised for low cost and short time frames to produce fashionable goods for established brands, most factories result in taking unethical actions in order to achieve modern consumers demand for fast fashion. These unethical, illegal actions are often concealed from the brands and inspectors; factory owners only reveal what they want to show. Such unethical conducts are bounded labour, child labour and forced overtime, but also having seasonal workers and subcontracting other small factories where conditions are far worse. Extreme cases of modern slavery can be seen through mental and physical abuse, dehumanising actions with restrictions on freedom of movement.
Fashion is the third largest global industry after cars and electronics. Being the second most polluting industry, embedded in a huge scale problem in relation to its little progress in sustainability, it is also an industry that has potential to communicate to a vast audience. Which implicates that educating in a correct approach through fashion, consumers with purchasing power could modify the fashion industry into a sustained manner where modern slavery is eliminated. Today’s consumers need to stop demanding for cheap alternatives to be delivered at a quick timespan, this is costing somebody else’s freedom by entrapping them within modern slavery. We need to demand a self-sustained fashion model where modern slavery is eradicated.
Modern slaves are really making the clothes you and I wear. How does this make you feel? Please share your thoughts!
BONUS: Slave to Fashion by Safia Minney is a must read and a great insight into the topic of modern slavery. Some facts are from the book which has inspired me to share her story.