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What do you know about modern slavery in fashion?

Slave to Fashion front cover

by Safia Minney, Founder of People Tree and managing director of Po-Zu (ethical footwear company)

Safia launches her new book ‘Slave to Fashion’ during Fashion Revolution Week. The book discusses modern slavery in fashion supply chains and goes through Safia’s journey finding out more behind the fashion industry.

I’m hoping that Slave to Fashion will be a crash course on modern slavery;  why is it still happening in numbers like we have never seen before and what needs to change to stop it. Modern slavery includes; human trafficking, bonded, forced and child labour and excessive overtime.

The inspiration for Slave to Fashion came to me in a dream.

The faces and hands of women, children and men reached out to me, calling, smiling, asking for solidarity, not charity, and for me to witness and tell their stories.  I wanted a big solution to poverty, exploitation and social injustice…

The book covers The Modern Slavery Act, The Global economy, Meet the Slaves (to protect the people I changed their names and masked their faces with a pink ribbon), the Social & Technical Innovations and investigative journalism that is making the difference, and a Toolkit.

The Fair Trade movement has been key to building public awareness, set decent standards for different agricultural commodities and manufacturing for products and terms of trade and has inspired policy makers and the media. The MSA (Modern Slavery Act), passed in 2015, which included supply chains and requires companies with a turnover of £36mn to file a Slavery Report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery in their supply chains, requires sign off of the company board.  There is a lot that needs to happen to make this more effective and give the public access to this information, and make it easy to act upon. The MSA represents a unique opportunity to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (remember those?!) and the Ruggie Principles (UN Guiding Principles and Human Rights). But what does this mean in reality for the workers?

It is clear that it has the power as companies are forced to get to know their supply chains and maintain information through good transparency, promote social dialogue, design and plan their orders better, to strengthen local legal systems, challenge corruption and strengthen human rights through laws and codes of practice that WORK,  including paying a living wage and respecting independent trade unions.

Researching, interviewing for and writing Slave to Fashion, I spend 6 months meeting women men and children in India, Cambodia and Bangladesh and hearing their stories and interviewed business people and activists working on human rights and slavery issues. Girls who were 12 when they started working at a cotton mill where her friends, other children were bonded labourers, and at 15 felt too exhausted and burnt out to work in a garment factory for 6 days a week; women who were trafficked and ended up in the sex and garment trade. Women who are sexually harassed by their male supervisors and who walk a thin line daily between losing the benefits of a permanent job and ‘giving sexual favours’. The sickening violence of slavery and misused power.

The great news is that there are Fairtrade, social enterprise and tech solutions out there and there are progressive companies too who are pushing the boundaries forward and inviting their peers to work with them to improve practice.

As a Fairtrade leader and entrepreneur, having worked in the so-called developing world with trade unions and economically marginalised people for over 20 years, we know that good trade can make a huge difference to people and prevent communities protect themselves from criminal gangs that broker people.

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