Animal rights group PETA also used LFW as a platform to raise awareness © PA Wire/PA Images
Animal rights group PETA also used LFW as a platform to raise awareness © PA Wire/PA Images

London Fashion Week 'provides space' to discuss slavery

17 February 2017

London Fashion Week offers a platform for fashion labels to speak out about modern slavery and recruit others in the fight to eradicate it, according to the British Standards Institute (BSI).

The fashion industry has been particularly susceptible to supply chain slavery as much of the labour and backbone of clothing collections are contracted out to various players, from raw material to final product, making exploitation and illegal activities easily concealed. 

Chris McCann, principle consultant at BSI Supply Chain Services and Solutions, said addressing the issues at the event could encourage fellow companies to commit to eradicating abuse in their supply chains.

“Although such issues are not restricted solely to the fashion sector, public events such as LFW allow organisations space to talk about the very real work they are doing in their supply chains in tackling these problems,” he said.

“In doing so, they can embolden other companies who may be intimidated by what they see as a significant challenge, and act as a guide in navigating often complex waters.” 

The comments come as BSI releases its Trafficking and Supply Chain Slavery Patterns Index to help businesses identify and address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

The index, which cross references and covers the movement of displaced people and their likelihood of being exploitatied between 191 source countries and 193 destination countries, ranks each combination of countries from low to severe based on risk score.

McCann said the index would simplify the process for big companies seeking to implement the index into their supply chain risk assessments.

“With the best will in the world, companies that may have upwards of 50,000 suppliers in multiple locations around the globe cannot have staff monitoring the activities of each production site,” he said.

“The index takes a reasoned view, based on objective data, of where risk of abuse may be greatest and provides companies with guidance on where to concentrate their efforts.”

The BSI revealed Bangladesh and India, where 8.8% and 6.6% of annual clothing imports to the UK originate respectively, are rated as ‘severe’ risk source countries for modern day slavery. 

Of the G7 nations, Italy is identified as a ‘high risk’ nation partly due to the conflict in Syria, along with Greece and Turkey.

The index’s lead developer, Michiko Shima, said it could also assist companies and police authorities wishing to pay closer attention to workers from countries where there is a high risk of exploitation.

“It is a new way for businesses and organisations to assess and avoid the risks posed by slavery and trafficking,” she said. 

“The UK’s imports of clothing are coming not only from Asia, where domestic slavery and trafficking is taking place, but also from other EU countries.”

According to the International Labour Organisation  there are 21m people around the world trapped in some form of forced labour, the term it uses to describe all forms of modern slavery, including trafficking, debt bondage and child labour.

The UK Home Office estimates that 13,000 people are working as slaves in agriculture, hospitality, fishing, privates homes, brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms.

Paul Broadbent, chief executive of the Gangmasters Licencing Authority, tasked with protecting workers from exploitation, said BSI’s index would highlight global incidences of modern slavery.

“The index is extremely useful and further adds weight to the growing intelligence picture we are building around the scale of forced labour and modern slavery,” he said.

“It is something which affects millions around the world, but what is not increasingly prevalent is how much of it is linked to the UK economy, whether that be a home or abroad.” 

In 2015 the UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act, the first piece of UK legislation focusing on the prevention and prosecution of modern slavery and the protection of victims.

The Act aims to rout out slavery lurking in UK supply chains by forcing businesses with a global turnover of £36m or more to publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement detailing what steps they have taken to ensure no slavery exists in their supply chains, under threat of an unlimited fine. 

The 65th London Fashion Week runs from 17-21 February and will feature 51 catwalk shows and 32 presentations highlighting innovations in the sector. 

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