According to a new report from the University of Sheffield, deteriorating living and working conditions for garment supply chain workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of forced labor.
“The unequal impacts of COVID-19 on global garment supply chains” have found that workers in Ethiopia, Honduras, India and Myanmar produce many of the garments we buy from our favorite brands in the UK and Europe were severely affected by the pandemic.
Both those who were lucky enough to remain employed and those who lost their jobs over the past year and found a new job reported a sharp decline in their income and working conditions; and both groups experienced a higher risk of forced labor during this time.
The study is the largest that directly involves the voices of employees to make the clothes we buy in the UK during the pandemic, along with interviews with retailers and analysis of company documentation. The above have focused solely on impact for multinational companies (MNCs) that own large fashion brands and retailers. It uses a whole new system to look for indicators that indicate that someone is vulnerable to forced labor.
Professor Genevieve LeBaron, of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield, said: “There is no usual definition of what constitutes forced labor and, contrary to public perceptions of modern slavery, it is possible that people are not against their will or trafficked without knowing their situation.
“They may end up in a job that they cannot leave for various reasons; false promises and deceptions to keep a person working in worsening conditions, threat of sanctions against the employee or their family if they left or sometimes indebted a person to the manufacturer due to a bad salary, letting them struggle to cover their basic needs for housing and food “.
The study found that both groups of workers experienced indicators of forced labor, with a clearly deteriorating situation during the pandemic. He stressed that many companies were far below their commitments to good practices; including obtaining sustainable products from manufacturers with fair working conditions, remuneration and no use of the farm.
The commercial actions of companies during the pandemic have revealed how many business models within the garment industry are fundamentally at odds with these commitments, and that current government regulations do not go far enough to protect workers.
Although the study found that there were examples of some companies acting in a way that met their social commitments, mainly companies that had direct ownership of factories or long-standing partnerships with manufacturers that were key. to protect. In these cases, workers were more likely to keep a job because of the pandemic.
Professor LeBaron said: “It appears that many garment industry companies accessed emergency financing during the pandemic, but they also provided little or no evidence that they respect the social responsibilities that most brands we recognize have in the workers in their supply chains at the same time.
“At the start of the pandemic, millions of pounds worth of canceled orders forced many manufacturers in places like Ethiopia to lay off staff, who later became vulnerable to exploitation during the desperate search to find a new job. .
Those lucky enough to keep their jobs reported experiencing worsening working and wage conditions, which exacerbated the already worrying inequalities between countries that benefit from their work and the workers themselves.
Some manufacturers are already taking legal action against companies that canceled orders worth millions of pounds during the pandemic and there are growing discussions about whether the conduct of clothing brands during the pandemic was legal.
The report calls on governments to increase supply chain governance and for retailers to address the damage caused during the pandemic.
Professor LeBaron added: “Our report shows that retail companies tried to compensate for the potential damage from the pandemic by transferring losses to their suppliers and workers who would be paid the least. Most of these companies have very deep pockets and they must act immediately to address the social challenges that have created their responses to the pandemic.
“Prohibit the sale of goods made at lower prices than costs and forced labor, ensuring that companies lighten the goods supply chain pressures on suppliers to use unfair labor practices and forcing brands to report on public funds received and how they have been used would be a good start to forcing retailers to be more transparent about their operation; helping to combat the growing inequality experienced by supply chain workers who meet our demand for fast, high-end fashions and helping consumers make more ethical and sustainable purchasing decisions. ”
Jakub Sobik, communications director of the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Center (Modern Slavery PEC), which funded research under its call on the impact of COVID-19 on modern slavery worldwide, to say:
“This report highlights the uneven impact of COVID-19 on complex business supply chains and the need to do more to protect workers who produce parts that are sold around the world from exploitation.
“Companies should consider how their actions can correct the situation and develop different responses for the future, while working with governments to ensure a level playing field for all companies, encouraging those who already apply good practices.”
University of Sheffield
Citation: Risk of forced labor in the garment industry increases due to pandemic and industry response (2021, June 21) recovered on June 21, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021 -06-labor-industry-due-pandemic-response. html
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