The Guccis and Pradas of the world could stand to learn a thing or two from their “fast fashion” imitators, at least when it comes to addressing labor issues in their supply chains, according to KnowTheChain, a corporate accountability initiative led by Humanity United, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and Verité. In a study of 20 of the world’s largest, publicly traded apparel and footwear companies, the San Francisco–based group found scant progress toward the elimination of forced labor and human trafficking. By and large, high-street brands performed better than their better-appointed brethren, with Adidas, Gap, H&M and Lululemon among the top ranked. Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, and Kering, which owns Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and Stella McCartney, received significantly lower scores, while Prada joined China’s Belle International Holdings and Shenzhou International Group Holdings at the very bottom.
KnowTheChain, which used publicly available data for its assessments, scored the companies based on seven measurement areas, including purchasing practices, traceability and risk assessment, and worker voice.
While Adidas scored 81 out of a possible 100 for addressing risks beyond its so-called “first tier” of suppliers and contractors, not one of the luxury brands involved inched above the average of 46, KnowTheChain said. Prada, as far as KnowTheChain could tell, managed only 9 points.
Empowering workers, it turns out, is many a brand’s Achille’s heel.
Just four out of the 20 companies communicated the existence of a grievance mechanism to their suppliers’ workers.
Just four out of the 20 companies communicated the existence of a grievance mechanism to their suppliers’ workers. And only five engaged workers outside of the workplace to help identify, resolve, and prevent labor abuses that may have bypassed traditional monitoring systems.
“Despite international and brand attention on worker issues for more than 20 years, many retailers haven’t addressed the deep seeded causes of worker abuse in their supply chains,” said Killian Moote, director of KnowTheChain, in a statement. Hopefully this benchmark will help them recognize that they need to do better by the people making their clothes and shoes.”
The International Labour Organization estimates that roughly 21 million people around the world are victims of forced labor, which it defines as “situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by subtler means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers, or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.”
The apparel and footwear industry is a particularly “at risk” sector, with forced labor endemic not only in the gathering of raw materials, but also during the manufacturing stages of the final product.
Women account for about three-quarters of the global garment-industry workforce.
“The fast-growing garment sector can create important opportunities for its 60 million workers worldwide—many of whom are women,” said Annabel Short, director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. “Yet far too many remain exploited, including in situations of forced labor. This benchmark highlights urgent steps that the industry must take to eradicate the worst working conditions, such as changing their purchasing practices so that risks are not passed down the supply chain, and ensuring workers have access to effective grievance mechanisms.”
Prada has declined to comment on the report.