SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 3, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Clothing and footwear companies are failing to tackle the exploitation of workers in their supply chains, according to a new report by KnowTheChain, a benchmark that measures companies' efforts to address forced labor. KnowTheChain's analysis gives the apparel and footwear sector an average overall score of just 37 out of 100.
While the 2018 benchmark shows improvement from the sector since KnowTheChain's previous benchmark in 2016, the majority of the companies scored poorly with more than two-thirds of companies scoring below 50/100. Industry-wide progress is uneven and lacking on key issues such as responsible recruitment—one of the areas with the most direct impact on vulnerable workers' lives.
Despite decades of public scrutiny over labor conditions in the industry, workers, particularly migrants and women, are often exploited through force, fraud or coercion. Many work for little or no pay, cut off from their homes or families, and with restrictions on their movement or opportunities for recourse. Compounding the issue, workers are often charged exorbitant recruitment fees that they can never repay, further trapping them in debt bondage and forced labor.
"No one should have to pay for their job," said Kilian Moote, KnowTheChain project director. "We need to see stronger action from apparel and footwear brands to ensure vulnerable workers are recruited ethically and that their voices and grievances are heard across all their supply chains."
The apparel and footwear sector is increasingly reliant on migrant labor. For example, migrant workers make up as much as 77% of the Jordanian apparel workforce and 44% of the Mauritius apparel workforce. Migrant workers are at particular risk of exploitation, as employers often hold their passports to stop them from traveling freely and enable recruitment agencies to charge hefty fees. In Taiwan, recruitment agents were found to charge migrant workers up to US$7,000 for jobs in fabric mills.
The report finds 18 companies scored 0/100 on recruitment, which measures a company's approach to reducing the risk of exploitation of workers by recruitment agencies, eliminating workers' payment of fees during the recruitment processes, and protecting the rights of migrant workers.
The report also highlights top performing companies. Adidas had the strongest overall score (92/100), followed by Lululemon (89/100), which overtook Gap Inc. (75/100) to secure the second highest spot in the ranking. Adidas and Lululemon are the only companies that require the direct employment of workers in their supply chains, thus eliminating the risk of exploitation through employment agencies. These companies also provided evidence that their grievance mechanism is accessible to and actively used by workers in the second tier of their supply chains.
The lowest scoring companies include luxury brands Prada (5/100) and Salvatore Ferragamo (13/100), footwear companies Skechers (7/100) and Foot Locker (12/100), and suppliers Eclat Textile and Yue Yuen, both with 1/100.
"A single pair of shoes made from rubber, leather, metal, and cotton may have passed through dozens of hands that belong to victims of forced labor," said Moote. "All apparel and footwear brands are at risk of forced labor and it's concerning to see the industry is still not doing enough to protect vulnerable workers around the world."
The full report and company scores can be found here: bit.ly/2Q78Z4q
KnowTheChain is a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labor abuses within their supply chains. It benchmarks current corporate practices, develops insights, and provides practical resources that inform investor decisions and enable companies to comply with growing legal obligations while operating more transparently and responsibly. www.knowthechain.org
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