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New digital platform shines light on labour rights issues in fashion supply chains

Based on cheap prices, speed, and maximising profits, the fashion industry has long been built on poverty wages, exploitation and violence. However, too often the complex and opaque network of global supply chains obscure the relationship between brands and retailers and the labour abuses that take place in their supplier factories. To shed light on this BHRRC has created new company ‘dashboard’ pages for 275 of the largest global fashion and textile companies. They provide easy-to-access information about company performance in protecting garment workers’ rights in their supply chains and cover the full database of labour and human rights allegations BHRRC has collected about each company over the last 18 years. The dashboards are also available for 142 firms in extractive industries, and 31 hotel companies.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) include company and financial information, lawsuits over alleged rights violations and civil society benchmark rankings. While benchmarks can be useful to separate leaders from laggards, scores are largely based on companies’ policies and statements, often leading to significant discrepancies with their human rights track records. By placing these alongside other evidence-based indicators, they provide a far clearer picture of the human rights risks linked to the company’s supply chain.

The dashboards show that none of the 275 companies are paying living wages in their supply chain according to Fashion Checker. A ‘living wage’ is a human right and the minimum income needed for workers to meet the most basic needs – food, housing, transport, clothing, healthcare etc – for themselves and their families.

Yet, brands outsource production to take advantage of cheap wages which fall far short of living wages. BHHRC research found the minimum wage is less than half the estimated living wage in 10 major Asian apparel exporting countries. In Sri Lanka, the minimum wage of LKR 10,000 (US$54) per month is a staggering seven times lower than the estimated living wage of LKR 75,6011 (US$408), while in Bangladesh the minimum wage is one sixth of the living wage.

The pandemic has further exposed the extent to which workers shoulder the burden of maintaining companies’ profit margins. BHHRC tracked 50 of the biggest, finding over half recorded profits since the pandemic, while many companies (including Walmart and N Brown) are still refusing to pay their suppliers in full. This leaves thousands of garment workers without pay and jobs, pushing them from poverty into potential destitution.

To ensure the workers earn decent wages, fashion companies must adopt responsible purchasing practices and pay suppliers prices that take into consideration the financial costs of labour. This includes ringfencing labour costs that make living wages possible.

Subcontracting allows companies to shroud their true supply chains in mystery. Because it’s at the far end of supply chains where the more serious forms of exploitation take place, the full range of abuse is obscured. The 'dashboards' show which companies are transparent about their supply chains via the Open Apparel Registry (OAR) and those that have facilities listed on Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB), which also maps subcontractor factories. A comparison by company shows how prevalent and shady subcontracting is, demonstrating the need for transparency beyond the first tier of the supply chain: at the time of writing, adidas has just three facilities listed in Bangladesh on OAR but has 64 on MiB, while H&M has 144 facilities in Bangladesh on OAR but has 336 on MiB.

Each company page at the 'dashboard' includes company and financial information, and links to their supplier facilities listed on the Open Apparel Registry and Mapped in Bangladesh. The pages also present the full database of labour and human rights allegations BHRRC has collected about each company over the last 18 years and shows the kinds of rights issues most frequently associated with each company. Also included are lawsuits against companies over alleged rights violations and benchmark rankings for the Fashion Transparency Index, KnowTheChain and Corporate Human Rights Benchmark.

Cambodian garment workers. Copyright ILO (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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