Around the world almost 30 million people are trapped in modern slavery – many within business or industries that profit from using forced labour. Slavery is big business. Profits made off the back of these victims are estimated at US $150 billion a year. This is mind boggling in an age that celebrates freedom, equality and opportunity.
In an earlier piece I did for Threads I explored how the fashion industry benefits from the business of slavery. Numerous factory workers around the world suffer appalling working conditions and poor pay. These factories provide the goods for many of our favourite high street brands.
There is a growing awareness about where our fashion comes from. And fortunately, as a result, many people are trying to make informed choices about where they spend their money. But it’s not easy. With today’s global supply chains going largely unchecked, we could be unknowingly contributing to the exploitation we’re seeking to avoid.
If we have any hope of stamping out modern slavery for good, then urgent action is required from government and business – along with individuals. Encouragingly, there are some high street stores that are trying to improve their processes, but it’s a hard task for them as they face investors breathing down their necks.
We need to create an environment that encourages companies to make positive change by establishing an equal playing field.
The Modern Slavery Bill provides us with this unique and once in a generation opportunity. This bill is currently going through parliament as a result of thousands of people calling for an end to modern slavery in the UK. It’s fantastic that the government responded to this call.
While the bill is a good step in the right direction, improvements are needed to make sure we get the strong law we so desperately need in the UK. Especially where supply chains are concerned. One hugely effective mechanism which would tackle slavery, forced labour and exploitation in the fashion industry is transparent supply chains. This would require large companies to disclose what they are doing to prevent slavery in their supply chains and work practices.
People Tree are the standard bearer of transparent supply chains. All of their products are made by artisans and producers who work to Fair Trade standards. In the process they are actively helping to alleviate poverty in the world’s most marginalised communities by not only providing fair wages, but also reinvesting resources back into the lives of the people that make the garments.
A range of organisations, including the Evangelical Alliance, Unseen, Walk Free and Anti-Slavery, are working hard to get supply chain transparency included in the bill. But we can’t do this without you. We need your help to get this clause in the bill. It is hugely valuable to have people contact their local MPs.
Following the tragic Rana Plaza Disaster in 2012, many high street stores, including M&S, Primark and John Lewis, signed the Bangladesh Accord, which aims to make all Bangladeshi garment factories safe work places. Unfortunately this hasn’t resulted in the change needed. This is why we need to see supply chains included in the slavery bill.
Too often we dismiss the reach of our influence when it comes to issues like slavery and trafficking. We convince ourselves that our efforts are an inconsequential drop in the ocean.
But the fact of the matter is our voices count. Our choices have a far reaching impact whether we realise it or not. We can either effect change for good or not. The choice is up to you.
You can contact your local MP here to ask for their support.
In recognition of the growing problem that slavery is in the UK, parliament created Anti-Slavery Day, which this year will be on Saturday, 18 October. It provides the chance to reflect on the devastating effects of slavery and trafficking, to celebrate and champion freedom and, most importantly, to seriously think about what we can do to stamp out slavery for good.
In aid of this year’s Anti-Slavery Day, IOM UK will be hosting a fashion show to highlight different forms of trafficking and to promote and celebrate fashion brands who strive to ensure their production line is free of forced labour. Book your tickets here.
Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” So let’s join together, let’s do our little bit to fight slavery, whether it be contacting your MP about the slavery bill, choosing to buy fair fashion or attending events such as the fashion show mentioned.
Let’s overwhelm the world with positive change so that everyone can live in the freedom, equality and opportunity they deserve.