Labor Conditions in the Fashion Industry

Every day should serve to reflect on the problems that still affect the fashion industry.
Of the 150 billion pieces produced in the world, many are made under inhumane working conditions. Slave-like labor, also called contemporary slavery, is still recurrent in the textile and fashion industry in general and plagues the entire world: data from the Modern Slavery Index (2018) points out that 354 billion dollars in items produced under this violation there is a risk of being imported by countries of the G20 group; of this amount, more than ⅓ are garments. With the pandemic, the UN warns of a possible increase in crime.

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Is there a pattern?

The example of Brazil: six million was the number of people enslaved in America (North and South) in the mid-1850s. Currently, 134 years after the abolition of slavery in Brazil, vulnerability comes first to those who already have a history of exploitation: for every five workers rescued in a situation similar to slavery, between 2016 and 2018, four were black. These are still the most pushed into the marginalization that prevents them from accessing universal rights such as housing, health, food and decent work.
We add to this the gender factor. In Brazil, the majority of rescued workers are men, but when analyzing only the textile and clothing sector, the number is balanced. In sewing work, often associated with a domestic task to be performed by women, who supposedly carry out the tasks of taking care of the house. Most of these women are mothers, often conditioned to leave their children near the machines, which inhibits the full development of children and adolescents.

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Global Support Plans

Slave labor in inhumane conditions continues to be a problem, but solutions are also increasingly being sought. Several European countries have developed support programs and pacts that currently large companies in the fashion industry have to sign, in order to commit to different objectives to overcome this situation.
Of these protocols, the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights stand out. The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the apparel and footwear sector to properly identify, prioritize and manage risks across the supply chain. And the actions continue with other partnerships such as the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, the Dutch Pact for Sustainable Clothing and Textiles and the ACT Initiative (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) that span the entire industry.

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Main Challenges of Fashion Industry

The fashion industry has gone through some scandals throughout its history, with regard to working conditions, mainly in fast fashion productions. And even when we don't hear stories, we can imagine that there is still a long way to go, but it is important for brands, companies and governments to come together to fight this scourge in the 21st century. In our view, there are four main challenges that some suppliers in the textile industry face and that large fashion groups must help to address. Namely, finding solutions to eradicate practices such as overtime and low wages, undisclosed outsourcing, firefighting and building safety, restrictions on freedom of association and labor rights for key supplier countries. It is very important for brands to partner with leading organizations and civil society to drive change across the industry.

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