There is a consensus that human trafficking and modern slavery is a complex problem that requires legal, political, and economic responses. It is therefore not surprising that there is only so much that the government, and legislation, can achieve in tackling it. In this regard, it is vital that the media continues its role in outing incidences of trafficking and modern slavery in the fast fashion industry. This will aid in educating consumers on the brands they are purchasing from and in turn lead to a higher rate of conscious consumerism. The role that social media could play in this is also worthy of discussion. We are living in a time where social media has a profound impact on society, particularly within the fashion context, and there have been concerns raised that social media is driving faster fashion. Research into this area has confirmed that social media has made consumers more rapidly aware of new trends and provided a platform for them to interact and communicate with each other. This power of social media could be used to rectify the damage that it has contributed to. A wider knowledge and understanding of fashion brands and their supply chains has the potential to reach an immense amount of people via social media platforms, and again promote a higher rate of conscious consumerism.
Further, the role that NGOs can play in the protection and prevention of victims must be noted. Despite NGOs being financially limited and having limited access to information, they have frequently taken the lead in combatting trafficking across the globe.This success is accountable to the fact that their anti-trafficking initiatives are routinely informed by the social and cultural contexts of the respective region, and reflect local trafficking patterns. By continuing to address the needs of trafficked victims and identify those most at risk, NGOs could significantly contribute to combatting the prevalence of trafficking and modern slavery in the fast fashion context by disrupting the toxic disposal and replenishment of workforces.
Developing on the protection of victims, owing to the extreme vulnerabilities and dehumanisation of trafficked workers, a rights-based approach to trafficking and modern slavery appears preferable. This would rightfully ensure the protection of some of the most vulnerable people in society, rather than putting immense effort into the potentially unachievable eradication of trafficking and modern slavery as a problem. This is not to say that a rights-based approach would not contribute towards eradication, but simply that it would secure the human rights protection and dignity of victims first. Furthermore, it is recommended that the government review the recommendations made by the EAC and ensure that’s its concerns over national minimum wage and the Modern Slavery Act are met. More generally, the complexities of combatting human trafficking and modern slavery as a problem must be echoed. While fast fashion brands have taken advantage of this, and subsequently worsened the problem, it does not mean that this damage cannot be reversed. However, the social problems of trafficking must be central to the process.
The rapid growth in fast fashion demand, and its ensuing competition, has played a large part in the moral complicity of fast fashion businesses. To remain profitable and current in a highly competitive market, brands, to a certain extent, have no choice but to employ and underpay a trafficked workforce. Taking the moral high ground in this instance would be financially disadvantageous to a company on account of their competitors choosing to profit at the expense of their workers. While this by no means intends to justify the exploitative nature of fast fashion chains, it does offer an explanation as to how the situation has reached such a scale. There is hope that the UN’s draft treaty will soon be adopted, increasing corporate liability, and mandating human rights due diligence. Until this time, it is essential that fast fashion brands continue to be called out for their involvement, so that conscious consumerism is increased.
Throughout this blog series, a number of issues have been highlighted that businesses need to be aware of, and Ardea can help with this. To learn more, you might like to attend our new Business and Human Rights – Online Training and Support Programme. This online programme will provide you with the information you need to understand human rights and business issues, as well as a practical guide on how to comply with key laws and standards.
Kiril Sharapov, ‘”Traffickers and Their Victims’: Anti-Trafficking Policy in the United Kingdom’ (2017) 43(1) Critical Sociology 91, 91.
Environmental Audit Committee, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability (HC 2017-19, 1952-XVI), para 8.
Elram Michaela and Steiner Lavie Orna, ‘Fashion Conscious Consumers, Fast Fashion and the Impact of Social Media on Purchase Intention’ (2015) 4(3) Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 173, 174-175.
Marina Tzvetkova, ‘NGO responses to trafficking in women’ (2002) 10(1) Gender and Development 60, 60.
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