By communications director Erica Bartle
Read Outland Denim’s Modern Slavery Statement, submitted for the Modern Slavery Act, here.
What does modern slavery have to do with the clothing we all wear? Sadly, a lot. Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (2018) exists to try and change this.
Prior to COVID-19, fashion was already one of the top five most exploitative industries on the planet. The Global Slavery Index's 2018 report, published by the Walk Free Foundation, states that $127.7 billion worth of garments at risk of including modern slavery in their supply chain are imported annually by G20 countries, a group of nations which account for 80 per cent of world trade and 85 per cent of the world’s GDP.
To add to an already dire situation, the Business and Human Rights Resources Centre reports that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of garment workers or a member of their household have gone hungry since the beginning of the pandemic as suppliers cut wages and closed factories.
The latest estimate from Clean Clothes Campaign is a collective loss of $11.85 billion USD in income and severance for garment workers globally from March 2020 to March 2021.
These financial circumstances have forced many garment workers to access alternative forms of income, leaving them more exposed to forced labour and exploitation.
“Research shows that poverty and financial crises are major drivers of modern slavery and even before the added danger of COVID-19 the growing casualisation of the labour force had left many workers vulnerable to exploitation,” said the International Labour Organization.
Existing as they do at the pinnacle of the fashion supply chain, the onus is on brands and retailers to combat modern slavery and the exploitation of human beings that can be its precursor. Reporting voluntarily to the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018 (or its international counterparts) is a good place to start. It may unveil uncomfortable truths, but we can’t revolutionize the fashion industry by living in the dark.
The Australian Modern Slavery Act is relatively new, coming into effect in 2019 and aimed at businesses with revenue of $100m+ who have the greatest affect on supply chains and capacity to effect change*. It’s only the fourth Act of its kind globally (after the California, the UK, and France). It is the first national legislation in the world to define modern slavery.
The Act defines modern slavery as, “including eight types of serious exploitation: trafficking in persons; slavery; servitude; forced marriage; forced labour; debt bondage; deceptive recruiting for labour or services; and the worst forms of child labour. The worst forms of child labour means situations where children are subjected to slavery or similar practices, or engaged in hazardous work.”**
The Act requires that Australian companies report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains with supporting evidence of the findings and a showing of efforts to remediate any problems. This means that even if they do not own their manufacturing facilities, fashion businesses still have to report on the slavery risks within their contracted factories.
The Act also requires that a business assesses any practises or omissions (i.e. failures to act) that may facilitate or incentivise modern slavery.
So, for example, for the fashion industry, this might include putting cost pressures on suppliers, failing to pay suppliers on time, finding the cheapest possible labour, and setting unrealistic time frames for product deliveries (meaning suppliers may have to sub-contract to meet deadlines).
Tracing modern slavery risks extends from the extraction of raw materials (mines, oil fields, cotton fields) through to the picking and packing of a product at a warehouse, to the delivery service, to the investment partners that facilitate business growth.
This is why processes such as those required by the Modern Slavery Act (2018) are so important: industries need to shift their mindsets from hoping slavery doesn’t exist, to accepting that it does, and actively looking for it. It is not a PR exercise but a human rights one.
As a brand, modern slavery is a cause close to our hearts. From the beginning we have set out to fight this human injustice by supporting women who have come from backgrounds of modern slavery, exploitation, or vulnerability, not with charity, but stable and safe employment, that in turn allows them to support their families and contribute to the prosperity of the wider community.
“Without addressing modern slavery and protecting the right to freedom, we cannot claim to achieve the broader goals of ending inequality and improving opportunity for women and girls,” say the authors of Stacked Odds: How lifelong inequality shapes women and girls’ experience of modern slavery (Walk Free, 2020).
We wholeheartedly agree.
With a growing global population in need of work opportunities, the slow but steady encroachment of automation in many traditional fashion jobs, and a global pandemic leading to more job precarity, we need to be even more mindful, as a global community, of the very real impact, positive and negative, that our business actions have on the lives of others. The Modern Slavery Act is a positive step in this direction.
Read Outland Denim’s maiden Modern Slavery Statement, here.
*For these businesses reporting is mandatory. Outland does not meet the $100m revenue threshold for mandatory reporting but has chosen to submit a voluntary report in support of all organisations actively seeking and working to address issues of modern slavery in their supply chains.
** Notably, modern slavery is only used to describe serious exploitation: it does not include practices like substandard working conditions or underpayment of workers. However, these practices are also illegal and harmful and may be present in some situations of modern slavery. These practices may also escalate into modern slavery if not addressed.
Source: Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018 Guidance for Reporting Entities