It's 2024, and the fashion world is still grappling with a major issue: forced labor in its supply chains. Despite some progress, a new industry report reveals that many companies, especially in the luxury sector, are seriously lagging — and it's all down to a lack of transparency.
According to the latest scoop from KnowTheChain, part of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, fashion's efforts to tackle forced labor are, well, pretty underwhelming. This London-based non-profit used public disclosures to grade fashion companies on a scale of zero to 100, based on criteria like respecting International Labour Organisation standards and having clear strategies to address forced labor risks. Spoiler alert: the average score was a measly 21.
Now, let's talk luxury. These brands are seriously falling behind, with some of the lowest scores in the industry. Think about it: LVMH scored 6, Prada scored 9, and Kering 23. Out of 20 luxury brands evaluated, only seven disclosed the first full tier of their suppliers. Despite many of these companies sourcing from high-risk countries like China, Ethiopia, or India, only a few actually reported any human rights risks in their supply chains.
Áine Clarke, the head honcho at KnowTheChain, didn't mince words: “Luxury’s public disclosure on these issues is really poor.” In other words, what's happening behind those chic, closed doors is anybody's guess.
On the flip side, Lululemon is leading the pack with a score of 63, while Ferragamo is lagging at just 4. Only two companies scored above 50. And here's the kicker: nearly half of the 65 organizations analyzed had allegations of forced labor in their supply chains, but only about 22 percent actually shared any solutions for workers.
Clarke pointed out that in key fashion sourcing countries, labor laws are being dialed back to attract more business. This rollback, she says, should be a wake-up call for big apparel companies to ensure the protection of workers in their supply chains.
Remember the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act the US introduced in 2022, banning imports from China’s Xinjiang region? Or the EU's legislation requiring companies to address forced labor in their supply chains? These were big steps, but they're not enough. Just look at the recent garment worker protests in Bangladesh that turned violent. Major fashion companies supported the call for higher wages, but as the report suggests, wage hikes alone won't solve the problem.
The real deal? Fashion companies need to revamp their purchasing practices and make their supply chains crystal clear. KnowTheChain's advice: support worker empowerment through binding contracts with unions and plan for necessary labor costs to ensure a decent living wage.
Clarke sums it up: ethical issues aside, a lack of transparency and due diligence is just bad business. And in the world of fashion, where image is everything, that's a pretty big deal.
It's a hard pill to swallow: the brands we've admired for years, those bastions of luxury and style, have known about the forced labor in their supply chains for far too long. Yet, here we are in 2024, and the needle has barely moved. The way these companies have treated human beings is more than just disappointing — it's atrocious.
But here's the thing: we're not powerless. We, the people, the consumers, the trendsetters — we have the clout to drive change. It's time to hold these fashion giants accountable. How? Start by getting informed. Read reports like the one from KnowTheChain, understand the issues, and know where your clothes are coming from.
Then, use your voice and your wallet. Support brands that are transparent about their supply chains and are actively working to improve workers' conditions. Call out the ones that aren't. Social media, reviews, and even where you spend your money can send a powerful message.
Demand more from your favorite brands. Ask them, "What are you doing about forced labor in your supply chains?" Let's create a chorus of voices too loud to ignore.
Lastly, think global but act local. Support small, ethical fashion brands in your community. These smaller players often have a more direct line to their supply chains and a greater commitment to ethical practices.
The treatment of workers thousands of miles away might seem like a distant problem, but it's closer than you think. It's in our wardrobes, it's in our shopping carts. It's time for us to stand up and say, "No more." We have the power to drive change. Let's use it.