"My personal belief is that to eliminate forced labour we need to go beyond what companies can do on their own, and go beyond an emphasis on punitive measures, to use multi-stakeholder approaches," Hughes said

"My personal belief is that to eliminate forced labour we need to go beyond what companies can do on their own, and go beyond an emphasis on punitive measures, to use multi-stakeholder approaches," Hughes said

United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) president Julia Hughes has testified on behalf of the industry about the fight against forced labour and highlighted the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to eradicate the issue. 

Hughes testified before the Senate Finance Committee on Fighting Forced Labor: Closing Loopholes and Improving Customs Enforcement to Mandate Clean Supply Chains and Protect Workers, yesterday (18 March).

"The task is not easy (to put it mildly). My personal belief is that to eliminate forced labour we need to go beyond what companies can do on their own, and go beyond an emphasis on punitive measures, to use multi-stakeholder approaches. The combination of civil society, NGOs, companies, governments and international institutions is needed to reach our shared goal to eliminate forced labour," she said.

In her full testimony prepared for the hearing, Hughes pointed to a number of industry examples, including the Cotton Campaign, which was created to combat forced labour in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan, and Yarn Ethically & Sustainably Sourced (YESS), an initiative of the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), an NGO that works to build capacity and manage an assessment of value chain actors' ability to identify, address, and prevent sourcing cotton produced with forced labour.

Hughes also referenced two pilot projects that were recently awarded two US$4m awards for cooperative agreements to implement technical assistance projects to increase the downstream tracing of goods made by child labour or forced labour.

"Even with all these initiatives, and a commitment from the industry, we are committed to do whatever we can to eliminate forced labour, and we very much want to work with Congress and the Executive Branch to eliminate this scourge," she said.

Hughes also outlined how the US Government can help tackle forced labour in the supply chain, noting USFIA supports a "whole of government" approach.

"First, with respect to stakeholders in the Executive Branch, I cannot stress strongly enough the need for a coordinating effort to engage our trading partners to eradicate forced labour from the supply chain. The State Department, USTR, the Department of Labor, the Commerce Department, the NSC, and USDA should make it a priority to execute a "whole of government" strategy to eliminate forced labour from supply chains."

She also voiced support for efforts by the Administration and Congress to take a leadership role on the issue on the international stage.

"Forced labour is a global problem – a problem that often involves the active or tacit blessing of foreign governments – and so calls for a global solution whenever possible."

Meanwhile, in a letter to newly-appointed US Trade Representative Katherine Tai this week, Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), says the organisation looks forward to working with USTR to improve labour rights and enforcement, and prevent forced labour through US trade policy.