Slavery became illegal in most of the world by the end of the 19th century, but that does not mean that’s when it ended. What actually happened is slavery went underground to a black market and today there are an estimated 41 million people in slavery worldwide. To give you perspective, the transatlantic slave trade of the 15th-19th centuries saw 12-15 million people in slavery, which is just about 1/3 of the forced labor we see (or don't see) today. Of the 41 million people in modern day slavery, fashion is estimated to have $127.7 billion of garments at risk of including slavery, imported annually into G20 countries that account for 80% of world trade. With such catastrophic numbers, why isn't anyone doing something to stop slavery in fashion? Well the short answer is, it's complicated. To understand more, you must first understand how human trafficking gets into the fashion supply chain in the first place.
Finding vulnerable people
As is often the case with people living on $1 a day, their only crime is that they are poor. Human traffickers begin by targeting rural areas with little employment opportunities. From there, they will seek out poor families willing to send a child away to work so that the child can send money home.
Transfer them across a border
After the traffickers have secured their labor force, it is imperative they relocate them, usually across a border, where they do not know anyone and preferably cannot speak the local language. This way they are isolated and unable to escape.
Hold their documentation ransom
In order to move people, human traffickers will acquire their legal documents under the guise of transportation. After relocation, human traffickers will hold that documentation as collateral. Usually they will inform the worker that a debt was accrued during transportation and they need to repay them before they can receive their documents again. This is a fictitious debt fabricated by the human traffickers, and also usually accumulates over time at their leisure.
Beat them into silence
Once working, the traffickers will secure the workers silence through abuse and bribery. The abuse is key to training their illegal labor not to speak to anyone, this way they can even work among legal workers without their colleagues ever knowing. Furthermore, the abuse is usually so terrible the workers are terrified to even attempt to speak out or escape in fear of further abuse or the continued threats of abuse to their family back home.
What can you do?
This strategy for human trafficking works across industries in forced labor as well as sex trafficking. Since the factory is a private business you are not privy to all staff documents nor the daily inner workings of the organization, but there are a couple key practices you can employ to be more aware of any potential for human trafficking in your supply chain.
1. Know your factory team
Having a personal relationship with your factory team not only allows you to increase your quality control, but it also ensures you personally know each worker in your supply chain. Any factory operating with a large contingent of migrant workers should be a red flag to check documentation and conduct solo interviews to ask probing questions about their background and current job.
2. Report suspicious behavior
If you suspect human trafficking is taking place you can report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline to be investigated.
3. Work with ethically certified factories
It is for this reason that THR3EFOLD works with ethically certified factories to ensure the books and staff are being audited in each of our factory partners. If you would like to find a factory with high standards for people providing sustainable employment in areas that need it, please schedule a call to chat about your production needs and join our Ethical Manufacturing Platform today.