Blog: Leonie BarrieForced labour claims weigh on India mills

Leonie Barrie | 3 November 2014

A number of retailers were last week forced to respond to allegations of "forced labour" among female textile workers in mills in southern India, with H&M blacklisting one of the five named. The move came after interviews with some 150 workers at five textile mills in Tamil Nadu found they were made to work long hours for low pay and were rarely allowed out.

Toxic chemicals have been found in clothing and footwear sold by nine supermarkets and retailers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - including Aldi, Migros and Tchibo. An analysis of 26 products found more than half of the samples contained harmful substances above precautionary levels, with the highest concentrations discovered in shoes.

Apparel and footwear giant VF Corp has launched its chemical management programme designed to identify and eliminate potentially harmful chemicals in the supply chain. Chem-IQ coincides with the firm's first comprehensive sustainability report.

Minimum wages are among the most challenging - and divisive - issues in the apparel industry, yet very little is known about the impact that a raise can have on employment levels, especially in emerging markets. But a new study suggests that while an increase in the minimum wage can ensure the poorest workers have enough to live on - it can also lead to the loss of jobs.

Global fast-fashion brands such as H&M, Forever 21 and American Eagle Outfitters who are keen to grow their business in Mexico are being urged to start sourcing locally the apparel they intend to sell on the domestic market.

Faced with an increasingly complex sourcing environment, more volatility and less predictable consumer demand, it's not surprising that retailers and brands are having to navigate higher levels of risk in their apparel supply chains. But finding the right solution is a complex trade-off between high risk, low cost and value.

Another challenge facing retailers is the massive growth in internet use and consumer connectivity. Insight on embracing change from Google UK, as well as tackling the "massive problem" of online returns, and the emergence of 3D printing as a worrying new front for counterfeiters, were all discussed at a recent industry conference.

Other trends expected to come to the fore next year include wearable technology, synced mobile devices, the growing on-demand culture of the digital world, and an increasing awareness of "corporate misbehaviour."

And as manufacturers and retailers respond to growing consumer demand for ever-greater levels of performance from their garments, moisture management fabric technology looks to be entering a new era.

Unseasonably warm weather in October has weighed on sales of autumn merchandise at UK fashion retailer Next Plc, with the group last week missing its third-quarter expectations.

Indeed, warm weather has also been one of the major drags on US apparel retailers in October, with analysts suggesting the month overall has been "scary" with "relatively weak" sales and headwinds that are likely to continue into the all-important fourth quarter.

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