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That Prada Bag You’re Carrying Was Probably Made by A Slave

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Dec. 14 2018, Published 8:55 p.m. ET

but its 2019?  Yea, we know its disgusting.

Opening the world up for global trade and free markets seems to be an endless list of benefits for the consumer: cheaper prices, more product, and a blissful ignorance of where and how your new product was made. Free market ideals allow for U.S and European companies to seek cheaper labor anywhere on the planet for maximum profit, often times resulting in the exploitation of millions of workers all over the world. 

The apparel and footwear sector employs 16 million forced labor victims of the 24.9 million victims around the world. Of that 16 million, 68% are women. In Bangalore, one of India’s main garment hubs, women in this sector make up 80% of the workforce.

Often times, these women come from rural areas and are not fully aware of their rights or may be socially marginalized. They are also more likely to be victims of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, and unfortunately, may not be fully aware of their workplace rights leaving them in a vulnerable place.

KnowTheChain is an organization that aides companies in better understanding the risks associated with forced labor in their supply chains all around the world. In their 2018 Benchmark Findings Report, they found that the 43 companies they researched scored an average of 37 out of 100 when it came to governance, traceability, risk assessment, purchasing practices, whether they listen to their workers, and monitoring of workers.

The higher scoring companies included Adidas who received a 92, Lululemon who scored 89, and Gap Inc. who got 75.

While Adidas, Lululemon, and Gap Inc. are the frontrunners for being somewhat ethical when it comes to their workers, many U.S and European companies scored shockingly low. Footlocker among them scoring only 12, Skechers received only a 7, LVMH, which makes Louis Vuitton, scored a 14, and the ever expensive luxury brand, Prada, scored the lowest at 5.

The main issue surrounding forced labor is the recruiting process that many clothing companies allow to happen to those working in any tier of their supply chain. It starts with desperate people looking for work to help their families, even if that means little pay and strenuous hours.

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Oftentimes, workers seek recruitment or employment agencies to find work. However, there  is a large fee to be paid that they cannot afford. This puts them into debt becoming bonded workers, meaning they are now working to mainly pay off their debt instead of a wage.

KnowTheChain provided a heartbreaking anecdote of a worker in India who was interviewed for the report, “She has been at the factory for six months, and has not received a wage slip yet… She has been promised INR 7,000-8,000 (approximately US $96-110) by the agent who recruited her, but received only INR 3,000 (approximately US$45) in the first month. [The agent] had assured her that the accommodation and food would be free of cost, but after arriving in Bangalore, she found that this was not the case.”

Among the companies in the report, only seven were able to provide proof of how they were supporting ethical recruitment, and 18 of those companies received a zero for their lack of attention on recruitment.

Adidas, Lululemon, Primark, and Ralph Lauren were of the companies that provided solid evidence that they were reimbursing their workers for recruitment fees. Adidas and Lululemon also try to hire the workers themselves rather through labor recruiters. Only 10 of the 43 companies were able to provide their policies that would prohibit worker-paid recruitment. KnowTheChain found that Nike and Burberry encourage hiring from within, but do not enforce it.

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What is happening here is a lack of empathy for those creating the products that these companies are able to make a large profit off of. The apparel and footwear is a $3 trillion industry, and savings mostly come from recruited and migrant workers.

Adidas and Lululemon have made amazing strides in the process to becoming more ethical throughout their entire supply chain. In the report, KnowTheChain found both companies to be doing well at maintaining a humane supply chain regarding their efforts in tracking their workers (who typically migrate from other countries), risk assessments, grievance mechanisms, and more knowledge of their entire supply chain.

However, it is astounding to see luxury companies, whose price points are somehow higher than Adidas and Lululemon, scoring below 20. Prada receiving a five shows that they have no knowledge of the exploitation happening throughout their supply chain. Not being aware of one’s supply chain is at the heart of the problem.

The Fashion Transparency Index from 2016 explains, “It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected and that environmental practices are sound without knowing where their products are made, who is making them and under what conditions. If you can’t see it, you don’t know it’s going on and you can’t fix it.”

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