As touched on in the previous blog in this series, the relationship between fast fashion demand and the growth of the human trafficking and modern slavery industry stems from the principles behind the fast fashion business model. The success of which has only been possible off the back of trafficking and modern slavery abuses.
In early international conventions, trafficking was traditionally thought of to be ‘the immigration offence undertaken by organised crime groups that transfer women and girls illegally from their home to a country in which they are forced into prostitution, the escort branch, sex entertainment, web cam sex, or pornography’. However, following the implementation of further legislation, the definition was extended to also include trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation, as set out in article 3(a) of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol).
In recent years, trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation has gained traction on policy agendas and been seen as a global priority. Advancing on the legal definition, Feingold describes trafficking as migration gone wrong, since victims of trafficking are often influenced by both the push of poverty and instability towards ‘bright lights and big cities’. This is accountable to the considerable income disparity that still exists between the global north and south, and the subsequent aspirations of people to seek a better life. The push and pull factors of trafficking are further explored by Louise Shelley, who characterises human trafficking as a business ‘built on widespread individual suffering’. Shelley goes on to argue that the difficulty in combatting trafficking is owing to it being so financially advantageous for legal businesses. Not only do businesses yield a higher profit by paying trafficked workers a subminimum wage, but they also enjoy other advantages such as the level of compliance that comes with employing a trafficked workforce.
The issue that arises out of viewing the human trafficking and modern slavery industry as a business is the way that it undermines the rights of victims, since its premise rests on the company’s ability to exploit its workforce at no real risk. Not only is this problematic but it highlights the difficulty in combatting this type of trafficking. Ultimately, the concepts that characterise the fast fashion industry have proven to be inconsistent with the protection of international human rights norms.
Jill E.B Coster van Voorhout, ‘Human trafficking for labour exploitation: Interpreting the crime’ (2007) 3(2) Utrecht Law Review 44, 44.
UN General Assembly, ‘Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime’ 15 November 2000.
Mariyana Radeva Berket, ‘Labour exploitation and trafficking for labour exploitation – trends and challenges for policy-making’ (2015) 16 ERA Forum 359, 359.
David A. Feingold, ‘Human Trafficking’ (2005) 15 Foreign Policy 26, 32.
Louise Shelley, ‘Why Has Human Trafficking Flourished?’ in Louise I. Shelley (ed), Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2010), 39.
Siddharth Kara, ‘Supply and Demand: Human Trafficking in the Global Economy’ (2011) 33(2) Harvard International Review 66, 67.