Apparel brands lag on exploitation in supply chains

Victoria Gallagher | 4th December 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – New research claims apparel brands are failing to tackle the exploitation of workers in their supply chains. KnowTheChain, a benchmark that measured 43 apparel and footwear companies’ efforts to address forced labour, gives the sector an average overall score of just 37 out of 100. The apparel supply chain is more reliant than ever on migrant labour in sourcing spots such as Jordan, Taiwan and Turkey, and migrant workers are at particular risk of exploitation, as employers often hold their passports to stop them from traveling freely and enable recruitment agencies to charge hefty fees.

The new report highlights top performing companies. Adidas had the strongest overall score (92/100), followed by Lululemon (89/100), which overtook Gap Inc. (75/100) to secure the second highest spot in the ranking. Adidas and Lululemon are the only companies that require the direct employment of workers in their supply chains, thus eliminating the risk of exploitation through employment agencies. These companies also provided evidence that their grievance mechanism is accessible to and actively used by workers in the second tier of their supply chains. Adidas also scored very highly in another human rights benchmark which suggests the business is now putting daylight between itself and the chasing pack on such issues.

“No one should have to pay for their job,” said Kilian Moote, KnowTheChain project director. “We need to see stronger action from apparel and footwear brands to ensure vulnerable workers are recruited ethically and that their voices and grievances are heard across all their supply chains.”

The report finds 18 companies scored 0/100 on recruitment, which measures a company’s approach to reducing the risk of exploitation of workers by recruitment agencies, eliminating workers’ payment of fees during the recruitment processes, and protecting the rights of migrant workers.

The lowest scoring companies include luxury brands Prada (5/100) and Salvatore Ferragamo (13/100), footwear companies Skechers (7/100) and Foot Locker (12/100), and suppliers Eclat Textile and Yue Yuen, both with 1/100.

“A single pair of shoes made from rubber, leather, metal, and cotton may have passed through dozens of hands that belong to victims of forced labor,” said Moote. “All apparel and footwear brands are at risk of forced labor and it’s concerning to see the industry is still not doing enough to protect vulnerable workers around the world.”

The full report and company scores can be found here: bit.ly/2Q78Z4q