World Day Against Human Trafficking 2021


  • The global workforce is estimated to be 3.4 billion people. 430 million are thought to work in fashion and textile production.
  • This means roughly 1 in 8 workers at least is involved in the fashion and textile industry.
  • Types of work range far beyond sewing machine operators in garment factories, to include farming, processing, treating, finishing and logistics work among others.
  • Much of this workforce is based in Asia.
  • Roughly 75% of factory-based garment workers are women.
  • The average garment is estimated to pass through 100 pairs of hands from the development of raw materials through to its purchase.


For too long fashion has come at the expense of the people making it, and at the wellbeing of the planet. This reality was brought starkly to light during the COVID-19 pandemic as human rights organisations called upon fashion brands globally to “pay up” with wages for garment workers. 

As retail stores closed and order cancellations followed, millions of workers reliant on the industry for employment were thrown into economic precarity while lacking adequate government support or alternative income streams. The latest estimate from Clean Clothes Campaign is a collective loss of $11.85 billion USD in income and severance from March 2020 to March 2021. 

The World Bank expects the number of COVID-19-induced new poor in 2020 to rise to between 119 and 124 million. 

Devastatingly, this has meant dire circumstances for many of the women who make up some of the estimated 40-60 million people in the global garment workforce, as well as the children and extended families reliant on their incomes.  

This has further increased their risk to exploitation and modern slavery.  Women already account for the vast majority of people exploited under slavery conditions (71%), and the absolute majority (99%) of servitude in the illicit sex trade.

According to the Modern Slavery Index published in the Human Rights Outlook by Verisk Maplecroft, the risk of modern slavery in Asian manufacturing hubs has surged with the economic impact of Caronavirus, increased labour rights violations and poor law enforcement.

“As more workers are pushed into the informal economy in countries where labour protections are already lacking, modern slavery risks will increase. Many laid-off workers are left with little choice but to turn to more exploitative forms of work to stay afloat,” says the Outlook.

One Bangladesh garment factory worker who has secretly turned to sex work to supplement the income she lost due to COVID told SBS,

“Now due to COVID-19, many garment women are doing this kind of work. The friends or colleagues I used to work with have all landed in the same flesh trade business, just like me. I wish foreigners, especially foreign buyers, could help support us and the people of our country.”

Similar stories are repeated across South East Asia of factory girls being pushed into the sex trade. 

“Especially the girls who worked for factories that have closed during the pandemic,” said one campaigner from Myanmar. “They have to pay their rent and debts and feed their families. They have no option.”

COVID has simply diverted the pool of already vulnerable young female workers from one exploitative industry to another.

And climate change just makes things worse. As well as being a driver of climate change (if modern slavery were a country it would be the third largest emitter of Co2 behind the China and the USA), climate change is also a cause of human exploitation.

It’s anticipated that climate migration will put people more at risk of trafficking and modern slavery as they migrate out of rural areas and into cities and urban slums without savings, advanced skills and limited access to gainful employment. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), these migrants have minimal bargaining power to assert their rights and can become easy targets for exploitation. Some studies report that women are especially vulnerable as incidents of women originating from climate vulnerable areas being duped by “agents” is frequent. The agents promise employment but instead sell vulnerable women to brothels where they are sexually exploited.

In contrast, as a brand built upon offering opportunities to formerly exploited women, Outland Denim has been able to weather the storm of the pandemic with resilience and offer more employment opportunities - opportunities that have proven to be a safeguard against the perilous human trafficking trade. 

“Research shows that poverty and financial crises are major drivers of modern slavery and even before the added danger of COVID-19 the growing casualisation of the labour force had left many workers vulnerable to exploitation,” according to the International Labour Organization.

At Outland Denim we were also able to dig down into our supply chain to ensure workers were cared for and heard. 

This, unfortunately, makes us an anomaly amongst a few peers in the fashion industry: it should be normal. And consumers like you and I want this. The Covid Fashion Report found that 82% of Australian consumers want to see companies pay their workers fairly.

Modern slavery and human trafficking affect millions of people around the world, approximately 40.3 million but it is imagined that this number has grown, and they are tied into the supply chains of the products that we buy every day, including our clothes. 

The Global Slavery Index's 2018 report, published by the Walk Free Foundation, states that $127.7 billion worth of garments at risk of including modern slavery in their supply chain are imported annually by G20 countries, a group of nations which account for 80 percent of world trade. 

While nations around the world, including Australia, enact Modern Slavery laws to ensure corporations are delving into and uncovering slavery in their supply chains, we must still expect brands to behave in humane ways, and that includes not turning a blind eye to the plight of the very real people in their supply chains who help to create their products. They are co-labourers with us in industry and must be seen as so, not less or other than.

It is not right that one in every 130 women and girls on Earth are living in modern slavery. But the USD2.5-3 trillion dollar fashion industry - an industry that prides itself on innovation, creativity and prosperity - should and could be a part of the solution rather than the problem. 

It is said that the average cost of a slave today is just UD$90. Imagine how many people the fashion industry could liberate from slavery by simply committing to paying living wages throughout the supply chain - from the cotton field to the factory floor and shop - and partnering with NGOs around the world to provide employment to former victims of slavery. This is our vision for the industry. 

This year, to recognise World Day Against Human Trafficking, we designed something to raise awareness of social injustice and offer you something to wear proudly. A reminder that together we're providing life-transforming training, education, and employment to people who have experienced trafficking and exploitation. You can view that product clicking here.






  4. bangkok/documents/briefingnote/wcms_758626.pdf





  9. From forests to factories: How modern slavery deepens the crisis of climate change by Kevin Bales and Benjamin K. Sovacool. Energy Research & Social Science, 77, available online 20 May 2021, 2214-6296/© 2021 The Author(s).


  11. Cited by Murray and Malik, The OAASIS Project School of Physics University of Sydney Australia, data-combatting-modern-slavery.html

  12. The Covid Fashion Report, Baptist World Aid Australia. Cited:

  13. Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, Geneva, September 2017.







  20. The Covid Fashion Report, Baptist World Aid Australia. Cited:

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published