"Each of us is probably wearing at least one garment that has been made with some element of forced labour"
This sobering comment does not come from an anti-slavery action group or a charity but from the pages of the Draft Modern Slavery Bill that is currently working its way through Parliament.
It is easy to think of slavery as something that was abolished in the 1800s – a non-entity in the modern world that is of no concern. However, much of what is consumed in Western democracies, is still marked with the fingerprints of forced labour as the quote above outlines.
When this issue raises its head it is usually as a result of human tragedy. The Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, which took place exactly one year ago today was only the most recent example of how very badly things can go wrong when factory conditions and low wages combine to reduce the cost of clothing.
For the companies involved, the cost of ignorance is dangerous. A simple search of “Rana Plaza Primark” brings up 125,000 web pages, including news of a £6 million payment to victims’ families and protests against the company within days of the disaster striking.
As the anniversary of the disaster is marked, major new outlets like the BBC, The Guardian and The Telegraph have all placed the spotlight once again on the disaster, linking major clothing retailers to what happened at Rana Plaza. A search of Nexis shows more than 60 newspaper articles in the past week alone that have referenced both Primark and Rana Plaza, demonstrating that this issue is one that is still very much alive.
The Modern Slavery Bill, which is expected to pass through Parliament during May 2014 aims to tackle the issue of modern slavery in the supply chains of retailers. Specifically the Bill recommends the following action:
The Bill also recommends that a non-executive director be made responsible for companies’ annual statements on slavery in supply chains.
Taken together these reforms should provide a far more transparent and consistent approach from retailer to the issues of modern slavery. It can only be hoped that this legislation combined with similar global measures can bring an end to the dangerous conditions that many of the world’s poorest people work in.
Note to readers. We will soon be following up last year's joint venture with STOP THE TRAFFIK. After last year's focus on human trafficking in the cocoa industry, our next report will focus on the cotton industry. If would like to receive a copy of this report when it is launched, please get in touch.