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U.S. Department of Labor Targets Forced Labor in Fashion Industry

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has allocated $22 million to target the growing issue of abusive labor practices in the fashion industry, and specifically, to combat the use of child and forced labor in supply chains, especially in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Clothing production is booming. In fact, according to a report by sustainability consultant McKinsey & Company, clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014.  The global market now produces more than 100 billion garments a year, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  At the same time, driven by “fast fashion,” the amount of wear we get from clothes has dropped by 36 percent, with almost 65 percent of all garments ending up in a landfill or being incinerated.

With more clothing being produced, production supply chains have already become a concern, raising concerns for the potential of forced labor, human trafficking, and/or indentured child labor. The DOL estimates that there are currently 25 million people in forced labor, and of those, over 4 million are children.

There are efforts to counteract this problem. For example, the DOL maintains a list of products (and corresponding locations) that are believed to be at higher risk of being produced by forced or indentured child labor.  Importantly, there probably many more international occurrences that are not identified on this list.

Where Are the Funds Going?

According to the DOL, the funding will be used to:

  • Support the International Labor Organization’s work with

Do Your New Year’s Resolutions Include Steps to Prevent Slavery and Human Trafficking?

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the US (culminating in the annual observation of National Freedom Day on February 1, 2020) and this year is the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (US) that established trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes.

Human trafficking and modern slavery are often hidden and pervasive crimes that know no boundaries and include forced and compulsory labour, debt bondage / bonded labour, human trafficking, child slavery, descent based slavery or forced / early marriage. As many as 40.3 million people – adults and children — are trapped in a form of modern slavery around the world, including in the United States.  However, in an inter-connected and transparent global business environment not only are these crimes increasingly visible but also the focus of targeted US domestic, US inter-agency and international governmental cooperation and business action.  It is clear that human trafficking and modern slavery are an intolerable blight on any society dedicated to freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law, but these crimes fundamentally leverage economic exploitation and are often also financial crimes (or linked to other criminal economic activity).  Human trafficking and modern slavery are an intolerable blight on any society dedicated to freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law, but these crimes fundamentally leverage economic exploitation and are often also financial crimes (or linked to other criminal economic activity).

The US Department of Labor’s integrated program to combat these criminal practices domestically and internationally addresses

Assessing Slavery and Human Trafficking Risks

The Modern Slavery Act (“MSA”) was introduced in the United Kingdom in October 2015 introducing criminal offences of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking. However, its most profound impact has been to drive a change in global business behaviour by introducing, pursuant to s54, a disclosure and transparency reporting approach. This requires a commercial organisation supplying goods or services (carrying on a business, of part of a business, in the UK with a turnover of £36M) to produce an annual statement on steps taken to combat slavery and human trafficking not only to a business’ direct operations but also their supply chains.

Following the MSA a legislative trend utilising due diligence and disclosure obligations to further responsible business conduct has developed and been reinforced by developing case law and test cases seeking to hold businesses accountable for social/human rights related issues. The launch of global Principles in 2018 for governments to use as a framework for tackling modern slavery in global supply chains is also expected to prompt legislation in further jurisdictions.

Mapping external and intra-group supply chains can be a complex and far-reaching endeavour. However, demonstrating responsible supply management is critical from a social risk governance perspective and increasingly may lead potential legal liability if it is not managed. Ensuring responsible business conduct is also a growing expectation of business’ key stakeholders, and it is reflected in company policies and practice, commercial contracts, tender prerequisites of private organisations and public bodies, customs practices, sectoral standards and guidance, exchange requirements and public benchmarking initiatives and government policy.

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