The apparel sector has responded to several worrying reports about human rights abuses in its supply chain and consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental and social issues at play when shopping, so the key question is – can apparel brands keep up?

One set of claims are against US fashion brand Ralph Lauren whose Canadian division has been investigated by the country’s Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. The watchdog was prompted to examine concerns surrounding the use of cotton originating from China’s Xinjiang region, where at least 3,500 textile and garment factories are said to use forced Uyghur labour.

As the complaint procedure continues, it’s worth remembering that Canada’s Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act will come into force in 2024, placing the responsibility to identify and prevent human rights violations within supply chains onto fashion brands, retailers and importers.

Last week, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) shared a shocking report detailing labour and human rights abuses in Myanmar. A total of 212 cases, affecting 108,000 apparel workers were flagged over the last two years, with the cases linked to 46 global fashion brands and retailers.

While a number of names from across the apparel sector – including UK fashion brand Primark and Japan fashion brand Uniqlo – have already announced their withdrawal from the sourcing destination, this new report says there has been a “significant uptick” in the number of allegations made by garment workers in recent months. The report warned: “Things are getting worse for garment workers – and quickly”.

Swedish fashion brand H&M took decisive action in response to BHRRC’s report, announcing as the report emerged that it would be withdrawing from Myanmar altogether. The news came just days after H&M had previously expressed concerns over alleged labour abuses in garment factories in Myanmar.

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In a statement shared with Just Style it said the move would be “gradual” and added the concerns raised in BHRRC’s report would be followed-up where needed.

As sales of clothing – particularly online – seem to be returning to pre-pandemic levels and beyond, it would be easy to assume that fashion consumers are not concerned by these concerning headlines. But as online fashion sales peaked in the UK in the first half of 2023, the figures came with a warning that digital shoppers are becoming more conscious about what they buy. In other words, in the coming months and years ESG is going to be more important than ever.

At the other end of the supply chain, apparel manufacturers are keen to show their ESG credentials and make it clear to brands and retailers – as well as consumers – that their factories can be trusted.

Sri Lanka’s Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) announced that a number of its apparel companies were integrating best practices and creating what it called a “new blueprint” for scalable and sustainable apparel manufacturing.

Plus, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association reiterated its country’s commitment to upholding workplace safety standards and creating a “safe, humane and sustainable” apparel industry.

Going forward fashion brands and retailers will need to keep a close eye on ESG as the consequences for those that don’t will become crystal clear.

It’s been an eventful week in the world of fashion sourcing to say the least and as Just Style’s newest team member I look forward to keeping you up-to-date with how these developments continue to unfold.

Myanmar human rights report calls out 46 fashion brands, retailers

A new report suggests 212 cases of labour and human rights violations against 108,000 apparel workers can be linked to 46 global fashion brands and retailers in the past two years.

H&M phasing out Myanmar production on due diligence concerns

In a statement to Just Style following the allegations made against H&M’s operations in Myanmar, the Swedish fashion retailer says it is planning a phased exit from the country.

Sri Lanka’s apparel sector focuses on ESG following economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s apparel industry body Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) reveals a number of its apparel companies are doubling down on ESG-focused innovation.

Canada probes Ralph Lauren over forced labour allegations in China

The Canadian unit of US premium lifestyle brand Ralph Lauren is being probed following allegations of Uyghur forced labour in its supply chains and operations, according to a report by the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE).

How Türkiye’s clothing suppliers are navigating market turbulence

Türkiye’s clothing sector is confident exports will still hit the $40bn mark in the near term, despite world-economy related order softness, thanks to its laser-focus on sustainability, technology and quality.

Signal: high concern for human rights abuses in Myanmar’s apparel industry

Apparel companies are continuing to consider Myanmar’s place in their supply chain, according to GlobalData.

Bangladesh transformation creates ‘culture of safety’ for garment workers

Speaking at a RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) event in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s BGMEA president says the country has created a “culture of safety”.

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Finnish fibre maker Spinnova has received a research and development (R&D) grant of up to €1.9m ($2.07m) from Business Finland to create fibres from waste.