It’s probably one of the biggest bugbears for fashion brands and retailers whose supply chains are incredibly complex and span several continents. While it would be a breeze to be involved in a simple transactional relationship with the garment supplier – and as was probably the case until not so long ago – with legislation looming that holds fashion retailers and brands accountable for happenings at every stage of the supply chain, it’s no longer an issue that can go ignored.

Labour violations predominantly occur in the hidden parts of the supply chain, beyond Tiers 2 and 3, where much of the subcontracting occurs.

Last week a report from the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, a member of the Cotton Campaign, raised concerns of forced labour in the 2023 cotton picking season, despite the country taking significant steps to combat the issue in recent years.

One of the most well-known forced labour cases in the apparel sector is that of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, who are allegedly forced into concentration camps that produce – among other things – cotton and garments.

The US introduced the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act (UFLPA) to ban goods suspected of being made under forced labour conditions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). But the complication for many companies that are selling fashion in the US is that XUAR-originating goods are finding their way into the country as a result of third-country pass-throughs, or while they are produced in a secondary country, they contain XUAR-sourced inputs like cotton. In fact of the 80% of cotton that is produced in China, 20% is reported to come from Xinjiang.

It is widely believed that one of the biggest contributors to forced labour throughout the supply chain is poor purchasing practices and it is something fast fashion brands have repeatedly been called out for.

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It means labour violations are not limited to the deeper points of the supply chain and can take place in garment factories, even those closely related to the point of sale. Last week Boohoo announced it was cutting ties with one of its fashion suppliers in the UK after a BBC documentary accused it of forcing staff to work overtime to meet demands.

Boohoo had earlier announced it was closing its Leicester “factory of the future” two years since opening, and would be “relocating operations”. It also announced the closure of its Daventry warehouse. While it did not indicate where it would be relocating production, there is reason to believe it could be overseas. In October, Boohoo became a signatory to the Pakistan Accord on Health and Safety and said at the time the country would play a key role in its future growth.

It’s an interesting move from the retailer. While on the one hand, it is cheaper to produce in Asia because of lower wage costs and closer links to supply sources, stringent incoming rules around supply chain violations and consumer pressure to operate more sustainably and ethically, have seen brands increasingly focus – or claim to be focusing – on nearshoring supply operations, as it allows them greater control over production.

For others, however, the cost of nearshoring, along with the lack of skill when compared to Asian sourcing majors, and the absence of vertically integrated facilities that have a significant impact on speed-to-market, overseas sourcing remains a no-brainer.

But as legislation looms that will see supply chains under increased scrutiny, brands – whether sourcing overseas or on home turf – must start putting in place measures that can allow them to monitor happenings in their supply chains effectively. Many are now looking to technologies like blockchain, that allow them to trace an item’s journey back to the source.

While this comes at a high initial cost, experts are urging brands not to be put off, as the cost of ignoring the issue could cost them more dearly in the future.

Top stories on Just Style last week…

US Department of Homeland Security under pressure to toughen up UFLPA
US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is under pressure to toughen up the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act (UFLPA) from the House Select Committee.

European Council adopts mandate to ban forced labour goods in EU
The European Council has announced its negotiating mandate supports the prohibition of products made with forced labour from the EU market, but it has introduced several improvements to the proposed text.

Bangladesh calls for global due diligence laws to aid apparel sector

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)’s president is calling for “universal” due diligence laws as the increase in manufacturing and factory costs is making it difficult for manufacturers to comply with several types of legislation.

Uzbekistan ‘welcomes scrutiny’ amid 2023 cotton harvest forced labour claims
The Uztextileprom Association has told Just Style it welcomes a probe into its reforms following a recent report alleging the resurgence of forced labour during the country’s 2023 cotton harvest.

Boohoo axes UK supplier relationship amid forced labour controversy
UK-based online fashion giant Boohoo Group says it has stopped working with one of its UK suppliers after a BBC documentary accused it of forcing staff to work overtime to meet demands.

Inditex, Bestseller, LLP counter alleged Myanmar garment worker abuse
Leading apparel brands have defended themselves after the Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) has reported worsening conditions for garment workers in Myanmar with brands accused of “failing to protect workers”.

Coalition of industry leaders to improve traceability of materials in footwear
Lectra Group’s TextileGenesis announces the launch of two groups, consisting of global industry players Lenzing, Fashion for Good and the Forest Stewardship Council, to foster collaboration and push the footwear and leather sectors to improve the traceability of materials.

100 global brands commit to Pakistan Accord for workplace safety
The Pakistan Accord on Health and Safety has reached the milestone of 100 signatories with the additions of brands and retailers Original Marines, Turner Bianca, S.O.K/ Group, Sun Garden, Tex Idea and MPL Home.