Walk Free’s new Global Slavery Index estimates that 50 million people are living in modern slavery worldwide, up 10 million since 2018. As suggested by the findings, garment production is largely to blame for this dramatic increase.
According to the latest findings from Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index, the number of people living in modern slavery has risen by 10 million since 2018 to an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
Slavery is defined as ‘situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse of leave due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuses of power.’ This abuse is present across numerous industries, with fashion being one of the worst contributors.
As revealed by the findings, clothing production (which has almost doubled in the past fifteen years) has played a pivotal role.
G20 countries are collectively importing $148 billion worth of apparel goods and $13 billion worth of textiles each year that are at risk of being produced by forced labour.
‘It’s a sharp and strong call to action for brands to understand that modern slavery is permeating their supply chains at every level, and that ethical production remains the exception rather than the rule,’ says Grace Forrest, Walk Free’s founding director.
‘Exploitation is the industry standard. In 2023, so much of this industry is underpinned by rampant exploitation of both people and the planet.’
View this post on Instagram
The research, which collates data from recent surveys, journal articles, and reports, spotlights exploitation at each stage of the garment supply chain.
This is broken down as follows: growing and producing raw materials; processing these into inputs; manufacturing; and brands and buyers.
At all junctures bar the last, Walk Free asserts that employees are facing concerningly poor working conditions.
These include poverty wages, pay determined by how many individual pieces are made, unpaid overtime, threats to health and safety, and a lack of benefits.
In their most extreme forms, these exploitative practices can lead to situations of forced labour and debt bondage, wherein workers are forced into slavery as a repayment of debt.
Since the last index in 2018, four more countries – Australia, France, Germany, and Norway – introduced modern slavery laws that require large companies to examine their supply chains and act on malpractices where they find them.
View this post on Instagram
Another 15 criminalised human trafficking, taking the total to 137, and nearly 150 now have modern slavery action plans.
Despite this progress, however, global fashion brands continue to maximise their profits by producing in poorer countries with cheap labour costs.
For this reason, Forrest says that although the report seeks to inform both brands and consumers, the onus is on governments to implement regulation.
Walk Free’s recommendations include: strengthening supply chain transparency regulation; conducting regular labour inspections; ensuring the national minimum wage meets a liveable one; preventing the import of goods made with forced labour; and providing avenues for redress for exploited workers.
‘The largest responsibility and opportunity sits with the countries who are in an economic position to do something about it, who can build supply chains differently and who are engaging with repressive regimes all over the world,’ adds Forrest.
‘They need to start talking about human rights in the front of those negotiations, not as an afterthought.’