Modern Day Slavery Alive & Well in Garment Manufacturing…But It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way
Modern day slavery across the fashion supply chain has become a well-highlighted fact over recent years. The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 brought the issue to the fore with the likes of Fashion Revolution and Fashion For Good ramping up their campaigns to address the ‘ugly side’ of the fashion industry. While rigorous factory audits have taken place and progress has been made the industry still has many issues to address.
(Image right: pages from Safia Minney’s, MBE, ‘Slave to Fashion’ book, published last year to raise awareness of modern slavery in the fashion industry.)
A recent sustainability report compiled by premium brand Hugo Boss revealed cases of forced labour in its supply chain. The brand raised concerns about the free movement of resident mill workers in Southern India, after discovering young female workers being held captive within the walls of the facility. Keen to implement positive change Hugo Boss said it has been working with local suppliers to resolve the issue. The brands’ annual sustainability report is specifically designed to create transparency, inform stakeholders and address any concerns. Mark Langer, Chairman of the Managing Board of Hugo Boss, stated: “We want to live sustainability and remain open to change.”
However, scratch the surface and you’ll find that Hugo Boss is far from alone in their findings. The policy of housing young female migrant workers in dorms situated on factory premises is commonplace in Southern India. The women travel from remote villages to gain employment and send money home to their families or to save for their wedding dowry. Factory owners insist that housing the workers on site ensures their safety however, this ‘confinement’ with very minimal contact with the outside world can last ‘years’ and raises questions of abuse within the walls.
Tamil Nadu, Southern India, is home to about 1600 mills that employ up to 400,000 workers, attracting mostly young girls from financially poor, illiterate and low-caste communities. The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organisation dedicated to improving the lives of the marginalized in South Asia, has discovered slave labour is rife from individuals being overworked, forced to work on average 12-hours a day, in confined conditions with the threat of job loss, withheld pay, violence or worse if anyone dares to complain about it. Many of these mills and factories are supplying to the High Street chains that we find up and down the UK today.
Martin Buttle, category leader for apparel and textiles at ETI (The Ethical Trading Initiative) commented in The Guardian: “Southern India is an exceptionally challenging and sensitive environment when it comes to improving workers’ rights, particularly the rights of young women workers. We recognise that poor conditions and restrictions on freedom of movement exist in mill-owned hostels, and a lot still needs to be done.”
While we are hearing a lot of the right noises about workers’ rights, sustainability and the ethics of the supply chain the layers are incredibly complex and deep. These reports on the garment manufacturing industry provide an extreme contrast to our own Fashion Enter Factory based in North London (pictured left). Established in 2010 The Factory manufacturers up to 10,000 garments with a minimum order quantity of 500 units. Current clients include ASOS.com, Marks & Spencer, the Arcadia Group and David Nieper. As publicised in the media being based in the UK doesn’t guarantee an ethically sound business however, at Fashion Enter transparency and putting people before profit is at the core of our social enterprise.
CEO of FashionCapital & Fashion Enter, Jenny Holloway, comments: “Our Factory operates totally transparently and ethically proving you can make garment manufacturing successfully in the UK today. Having worked so closely with ASOS.com for the last 8-years I have the highest respect and admiration for the ethos of the company. Without ASOS.com we would not be here today, they have fully supported our learning facilities, Factory and the growth of ‘Made in Britain’ production and their dedicated effort to become publicly transparent will hopefully lead the way for other brands to follow suit.”
The Fashion Enter Factory has an ‘open door’ policy inviting clients to drop in at any time, as well as regularly holding CPPD workshops enabling retailers and students to understand how an ethically run factory operates.