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| 1 minute read

Modern slavery risks surge for Asian garment workers with Coronavirus

Many of us believe slavery is a thing of the past. Sad to say, it still exists today. It’s hidden in the supply chains of everyday products, such as clothes, smart phones, make up, coffee, etc.

Slavery in the apparel or fashion world in particular, can appear in many forms from harvesting the cotton for a t-shirt, spinning the fibre to yarn, sewing the garment and modelling the final product. The difference between slavery and extremely exploitative labour can be vague. Also, many large fashion brands and companies don’t have full control over their supply chains, hence making illegal work practices such as trafficking and servitude possible. Most of the labour and backbone of clothing production is contracted out to various players and tracing all the steps from raw material to final product can be quite difficult, thus making exploitation and illegal activities get unnoticed.

Asia, as the world’s garment manufacturing hub, has an increasingly complex modern slavery risks and exposures, especially when it comes to meeting mandatory modern slavery or other ESG-related reporting requirements. Moreover, recent pandemic situation has caused millions of workers in the region lose their jobs and move into the ‘informal’ economy, which can lead to forced labour exposure or even, slavery in supply chains.

Travel restrictions and other measures to reduce the spread of Covid19 might have reduced, and will continue to reduce the supply chain’s transparency. What does this mean to corporations? Higher reputational risk to brands from association with modern slavery; unless companies are willing to accept and embrace the remote/virtual audit solutions to ensure ethical working practices in their supply chains.

So…modern slavery is real!  

Bringing awareness to this expansive issue is just the first step. There are obviously many factors that go into ending modern-day slavery, but what can we, consumers do?

Ask questions, educate yourself, and act consciously. Who made your clothes? Does the price reflect the effort and resources that went into this?

Wear what you have. Don’t throw away your clothes, shoes, and accessories. There are ways to keep them out of landfills (reuse, resell, swap, repair, tailor, donation, hand me downs).

Support ethical producers — but only if you need something. You can’t buy your way into sustainability. Over-consumption has led us to an unsustainable ecosystem. We need to reconsider what are “our needs” are vs. “our wants.”

Asian garment workers supplying global fashion brands lost up to $5.8 billion (S$7.8 billion) in wages from March to May, the Clean Clothes Campaign pressure group said last month, as the Covid-19 pandemic led to store closures and cancelled orders. "What makes the situation even more alarming is that modern slavery risks are set to intensify as countries grapple with the economic fallout of the pandemic," said Sofia Nazalya, a human rights Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.


modern slavery, fashion garment industry, sustainability, esg, social ethical compliance