Sweatshops Exposed: Why we must aim for transparency
The number of people in slavery today is colossal. It’s daunting. It hurts. And yet, we sit here, reading these articles on our phones or computers––in America, in Canada, in Europe, everywhere across the globe––with anger brewing inside of us. And we stay seated. Why?
Because we are the consumers of the slave industry.
The clothing we wear, the foods we eat – everything has been processed somewhere, and unfortunately it is too common that such processes include the work of exploited people. Slavery has been outlawed in every country in the world, so how is it slipping by us?
Well, it is illegal, but traffickers will take any measure to ensure they won’t be exposed. It is hard to lock down.
This is why we must aim for transparency. Transparency informs workers and the public of which factories are producing what brands, and how work within such factories is being carried out. In order for a factory to be fully transparent, brand names and locations should be publicly disclosed, along with factory health regulations, workers’ pay, and other important manufacturing information.
The need for Accountability
In 2011, the image to the right was leaked by the International Textile and Leather Workers Federation. It lists 60 brands found using sweatshops somewhere along their line of business. Accordingly, by the end of 2016, brands such as Adidas, Columbia, Esprit, GAP, Levi’s, Marks, Spencer’s, Nike, and Puma began disclosing information about their businesses, and of these companies, Adidas, Esprit, Levi’s, and Nike all took an additional step to agree to the Transparency Pledge. PVH, the corporation who owns brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein have since taken active steps to combat slavery in their supply chain by signing onto the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act. And Athleta has since taken a profound step towards ethics and transparency by becoming a B-Corp in 2018 (Want to know more about B-corps? Read more here).
Nonetheless, there are still loose ends for some. Since 2005, Nike has been publishing supplier factory information. However, today, “86% of its factories [are] up to the minimum standards it set [for itself and assess internally].” Because no regulatory agencies check Nike’s factory standards, there is still room for illegalities.
Similarly, in 2013, H&M Group became the first fashion brand to publish the names and addresses of its supplier factories. Then, only two years later, H&M Group was exposed for its use of illegal employee contracts that allowed for wrongful termination.*
So, what is happening within these companies?
They are big companies, and big companies require several different tiers of management. It is possible that the higher-ups of the company are themselves unaware of what happens behind the scenes of their supplier factories – it can become hard to track down the logistics of what really happens. But that’s the company’s job, so “hard” is no excuse.
We should be skeptical of brands who do not release this critical information. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2018: “At least one company, Inditex (which owns Zara and other brands), has refused to publish any supplier factory information, arguing that it privately discloses the data to global unions with whom it has signed a global framework agreement, intended to improve working conditions throughout its supplier factories globally.”
It seems that Inditex is trying to protect its confidentiality, but in not publishing supplier factory information, the company has drawn negative, or at least skeptical, attention to itself.
Publishing behind-the-scenes factory information actually works in favor of companies because it demonstrates to the consumer that the company stands behind the fair treatment of people.
So, what’s the hang-up, Inditex?What’s the hang-up for Nestle’s cocoa industry? Starbucks, which only has two of its coffees Fair Trade certified? Walmart, which is known for giving workers less than promised and factory owners not paying their workers?
It cannot be discounted that being an ethical consumer is hard. So much of what we buy cycles back into human trafficking without our knowledge, and with so many companies cryptically concealing the transparency we need to end human trafficking, we can find ourselves at a loss. But let us hold on to the hope that our voice, our retaliation against these companies, our demand for change will make a difference. There is a cyclical nature to the success of a company, and if we, as consumers, reduce the demand, there will be a natural decrease in the supply of goods made through exploitation.
We already contribute to good business, but let’s make good business mean something other than money. Let’s make good business mean fair business. Let’s make good business mean justice.
*H&M Group has since shown an improvement in transparency, as seen in the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, however they still have to address the concerns present in their supply chain.
Small Run, Big Impact.
Join us on April 13th for our second annual 'You Can Do Anything in a Dress (or Tie)' 5k. Run in our Los Angeles 5k/Yoga event or run virtually in your own city! Set up your free campaign page and purchase tickets for the LA event today!
About the Author
Emily James is currently a junior at Azusa Pacific University, pursuing an English degree with a concentration in Writing. She has big plans to travel and see the vibrant colors of the world, and to write of the marginalized and unheard people she meets along her nomad journey (Dressember is fitting!). When she is not in class or working as an elementary reading and writing tutor, she loves to rock climb, hike, read, and watch romance movies with the girls.