A report has warned that exploitation in fashion supply chains starts as early as the recruitment process, but Adidas is praised for its approach to tackling forced labour.
The report by non-profit KnowTheChain said many brands fell short in disclosing their supply chain recruitment processes, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation.
Audits showed that some recruitment agencies were charging workers exorbitant fees for securing them jobs. In many cases, the agencies then withheld workers’ passports until the fee was paid.
Audits of factories in Taiwan examined by KnowTheChain found that in one example, recruitment agents were charging migrant workers up to $7,000 for jobs in a fabric mill.
Another factory was found to have confiscated 82% of employees’ passports.
The report says that the apparel industry is increasingly reliant on migrant workers, and urges companies to pay attention to the risks.
Kim Moote, project director at KnowTheChain, called for stronger action from apparel and footwear brands to tackle forced labour by ensuring that workers are recruited ethically and their grievances heard.
The report has benchmarked 43 of the world’s leading apparel and footwear companies on the measures they are taking to address forced labour and tackle modern slavery in supply chains.
Out of a maximum score of 100, the average score achieved was just 37.
According to KnowTheChain, this is partly due to the sector’s “globally complex and opaque supply chains and competition for low prices and quick turnarounds”.
Activewear brands Adidas and Lululemon scored most highly, with Adidas scoring 92 and Lululemon scoring 87. They were praised for providing training on ethical employment practices for suppliers, reimbursing recruitment fees, and requiring factories to hire directly, rather than through agencies.
"They are the only companies to disclose evidence that workers below the first tier of their supply chains have access to and have used their grievance mechanisms," said the report.
Meanwhile luxury brands Prada and Louis Vuitton scored much lower. Scoring below 15 out of 100, the findings demonstrate that migrant workers in European factories are also at risk of exploitation.
"A single pair of shoes made from rubber, leather, metal, and cotton may have passed through dozens of hands that belong to victims of forced labour," said Moote.
"All apparel and footwear brands are at risk and it's concerning to see the industry is still not doing enough to protect vulnerable workers around the world."