Unions are being urged to step up their efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers employed in the clothing and footwear industry.

Timed to coincide with International Migrants Day which takes place today (18 December), the global union representing workers in this sector warns the problem is as likely to be found in industrialised countries as in developing nations.  
 
"The abuse of migrant workers, including trafficked migrant labour, is a growing problem in the fashion industry," says Patrick Itschert, general secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation.

Workers often pay labour brokers a hefty fee - sometimes as much as ten years' local minimum wage - in order to secure a job in Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius or elsewhere.
 
The fees often take the form of a loan which must then be repaid, with interest, from future earnings. 

Passports are withheld as security against the loan, and sometimes workers are charged additional fees if they want to change workplaces. They are typically housed in overcrowded dormitories and survive on substandard food.
 
"With deductions being made for their loans as well as for housing and food, workers are forced to work extremely long hours," Itschert explains.

"Without identity documents, owing money to brokers, tied to fixed contracts and far from home these workers are in reality bonded slaves."
 
Migrant garment workers are just as likely to be found in the backstreets of Barcelona, Manchester or Buenos Aires as they are in Amman, Kuala Lumpur or Port Louis.
 
Earlier this year, for example, a Manchester sweatshop producing for high street brands was found to be employing mostly illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan who were earning a little more than half the minimum wage and working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
 
The union is calling for pressure on governments, employers and buyers for action to eliminate abuses.

And it wants more to be done to raise awareness among consumers "that there is no such thing as cheap fashion because someone somewhere always pays the price".