Rooting out workers' rights abuses in the fashion industry is easier said than done. Time and again brands have pledged to guard workers against human rights abuse but failed to deliver on their promise. Last month, the US imposed sanctions on some Chinese companies for violation human rights. Similarly, regulators forced Dov Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel to close after hundreds of workers fell ill with COVID-19.
However, these incidents defy the idea that the fashion industry can stop worker exploitation on its own. Labor abuse is a complex, opaque and multifaceted issue that requires a bigger and bolder commitment to ethical sourcing. The current system fails to weed out the problem as it is based on corporate codes of conduct enforced by private audits and certifications. As per a new research from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relation, current audits are based on unreliable or falsified information. There is no evidence of their validity. Hence, the industry needs to introduce a government supported audit system.
Offer better prices
A report by the UK House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee says, buying practices of e-commerce players, including Boohoo, compel UK manufacturers to pay illegally low wages. In their search for best prices, brands often shift to geographies that offer fewer worker protections. Hence, brands, governments, manufacturers need to play an equal role in driving change.
The pandemic has increased union busting. However, it has also increased initiatives that give workers a bigger voice. The Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) initiative formed by 20 major brands in collaboration with IndustriALL Global Union aims to form collective bargaining agreements to secure minimum living wages in key manufacturing countries. Brands participating in this agreement have to ensure that they offer sufficient prices to support the pay increases, and their suppliers allow unions and freedom of association.
While such initiatives show promise, not many participate in them. Boohoo has consistently failed to participate in industry efforts to address working practices in Leicester.
Fashion Transparency Index’s latest report shows, the industry remains opaque about their social and environmental policies and practices. Though the 250 companies covered in the report are transparent about their policies and commitments, they do not demonstrate any real outcome. Hence critics believe, brands monitor their supply chains only if they are penalized for defaulting. Laws intended to protect workers are often ignored as brands are rarely held accountable for labor abuses in supplier factories.
In UK, allegations around poor working conditions in Leicester have sparked calls to provide authorities with more powers to enforce labor rights. In lieu of this, the European Union plans to introduce mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in 2021.