The global economy has advantages to both consumers and producers, such as cheap labour and clothing. Unfortunately, a by-product of inexpensive labour and clothing can be violations of human rights. As discussed in the Dressed to Kill report by LexisNexis® and STOP THE TRAFFIK which investigate the link between cotton and human trafficking, human trafficking is occurring in long, complex global supply chains which contain outsourcing and subcontracting.
Addressing the problem instead of avoiding
Apparel companies in developing nations can be a significant driver to help overcome poverty by providing jobs, skills and tax revenue which are critical to development. The western businesses that garment factories supply help provide a pathway out of poverty and unemployment, particularly for young women. In countries such as Bangladesh, the garment industry is very important, employing over 4 million people.
When tragedy struck factories in Bangladesh, many Western businesses supplied by them such as Kmart and Target were affected. Wesfarmers even stated in November 2013 that the tragedies made them consider pulling out, but charities who had visited the country told them this would be the worst outcome for both parties.
Judy Gearhart, International Labour Rights Forum said in response to the Bangladesh tragedy: "Now is not the time to walk away from the mess. [If they would go] who would force Bangladesh to change and keep scenes like this from happening again?"
With this in mind, Wesfarmers agreed they needed to make sure they were doing everything they could to ensure people working in factories who supplied them were safe and treated properly. Representatives from Kmart and Target then went to Bangladesh to ensure the standards in supplier factories were what they should be by insisting correct wages were paid and that health and safety standards apply.
Carolyn Kitto, STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia Coordinator comments:
"For Western consumers, the complexity of the garment industry means it is difficult to know the true provenance of clothing... Consumers and Western brands need to ensure clothes are ethically sourced and made. There are so many people who have touched it along the supply chain that could have been abused and exploited in the process."
What steps can a business take?
Kevin Burke, President and CEO, American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) states; "It is more important than ever for brands and retailers to know exactly where the product is at any given time and what materials are being used to create the product. Being able to trace the supply chain is a top priority for the industry." Take a look at the steps businesses can take to avoid inadvertently supporting human trafficking;
Read more about LexisNexis and STOP THE TRAFFIK in our blog on the cotton industry report.
The full report is available to download here: Dressed to Kill.