In the UK, there are laws and regulations in place to prevent inequality within the supply chain. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 states that ‘every organisation carrying a business in the UK with an annual turnover of £36m must produce a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organisation.’
But, these reports do not have to guarantee that the supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking, rather they have to state what the organisation is doing to help put a stop to modern slavery in their supply chains. Bigger organisations tend to move to different factories internationally depending on the cheapest manufacturers, therefore it is almost impossible to police these supply chains. These organisations can create false audits and use loopholes to make it seem like there is no modern slavery within their supply chain when they actually have no idea. The Modern Slavery Act also only covers issues like slavery and forced labour, but other exploitative issues like underpayment and poor working conditions aren’t taken into account.
It’s clear that the UK employment and modern slavery laws aren’t up-to-date with the extent of supply chains used by fast fashion brands. This makes policing virtually impossible for governments as well as confusing workers who don’t understand their rights as employees.
After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2012, fashion brands promised to ensure that their supply chains were free from inequality. Previous regulations weren’t protecting workers and research has shown that there has been little to no improvement in supply chains despite newer regulations and promises made by big corporations. Cornell University’s latest research (as seen below) showed that brands, suppliers, unions, and governments didn’t know what to do to improve supply chains. They looked at the private and public regulation systems needed to improve supply chains, and found that in two countries, more than half of the 31,652 factory audits were falsified or unreliable.
The lack of effort to look into supply chains means that consumers aren’t aware of the inequality it took to produce their garments. Big corporations need to invest in innovative systems in order to effectively see the exploitation within their global supply chains. But, they won’t. Fashion can’t afford to wait around for consumers demand for sustainability to increase, they have to act now.
The coronavirus pandemic has massively affected the fashion industry, and worldwide recessions may deter corporations from investing in sustainability even more. Which is why it is so important that we have these conversations and continue to fight against the exploitation happening every day across the globe.