The fashion industry has made strides in working to protect and respect human rights over the years. However, risks and issues of modern slavery and labour exploitation remain and are constantly evolving, so our approaches must evolve and change too.
Rachel Hartley from Slave-Free Alliance explains below what fashion brands should focus on and prioritise in their anti-slavery programmes. She gave six key recommendations for fashion brands to further their anti-slavery agendas and ensure protection for those most vulnerable in their operations and supply chain.
Ultimately, we can’t manage what we don’t know, so fashion brands need to continue to prioritise transparency. This means advancing supply chain mapping, across stock and nonstock operations, and raw material traceability, continually publishing updated factory lists and transparently reporting on risks and issues.
Fashion brands need to move away from an audit driven approach, where a poor rating can result in quick termination of the commercial agreement, to a capacity building approach in working with suppliers. Real change for vulnerable workers in the industry will only be achieved if brands invest in building strong partnerships with suppliers and the capability to address risks and issues together.
Embedding responsible purchasing practices needs to be a core industry priority and buying teams need the right training to understand the impact of their commercial decisions. Responsible purchasing practices must include ring-fencing labour in cost prices from negotiation to protect workers’ wages and pave the way to paying a living wage.
Issues of modern slavery and labour exploitation may go unreported, undetected and unresolved if businesses don’t work to empower the worker voice. Risks can’t be mitigated if workers cannot freely associate and bargain collectively for better working conditions. Ensuring that workers are heard, collectively and individually, is integral to protecting and respecting the human rights of all workers.
In order to understand if organisations have achieved our goals and provide better protection for vulnerable workers, they need to measure our impact. Fashion brands need to focus on designing impact indicators to measure performance in their anti-slavery activities and ensure workers are benefiting. Reporting on these indicators will also be essential to contribute to a limited discourse on impact in human rights initiatives in the industry.
The trap we at Slave-Free Alliance see many fashion brands falling into is treating their sustainability pillars as separate agendas. There are intrinsic linkages between environmental and social sustainability and a unified response will results in more impactful progression. Fashion brands need to focus on harmonising the wider sustainability agenda, building capability between internal teams and collaborating with external partners.
With these focus areas, the fashion industry has the potential to accelerate further progress in protecting and respecting the human rights of workers globally. Incorporate these key recommendations to eradicate modern slavery in your supply chains.
Learn more about Slave-Free Alliance here: https://www.slavefreealliance.org