The denim jean market is worth USD $66 billion (1). The human trafficking industry is worth USD $150 billion (2). Outland Denim was founded to provide vulnerable groups with freedom. Each day we provide a safe, dignified, and fulfilling workplace for people who have experienced trafficking. This topic is close to our hearts, and take pride in shining a light on this global injustice.
Human trafficking is a form of Modern Slavery, which affects an estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children around the world (3). According to the United Nations, human trafficking has reached a 13-year high (4). It's an issue that exists at every corner of the world, developing and first world countries alike.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors. (5)
The recent spread of COVID-19 only heightened the risk for those who have experienced trafficking, as well as those already most vulnerable to trafficking with increased unemployment, loss of wages, and limited access to education, social security and legal services. (6)
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre highlights that traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable due to entrenched economic, social and structural inequalities, and they express concern for a potential increase in particularly the exploitation of children and girls.
“No longer at school and with families that are indebted and may be experiencing higher levels of family violence, child begging, child labour, forced marriage, and online sexual abuse will all likely increase,” notes Erin Anderson, team leader of ASEAN-ACT.
In the fashion industry, economic uncertainty has led to brands cancelling their orders. This, paired with social distancing restrictions, has led to garment factory closures around the world and the retrenchment of millions of garment workers (8,9).
An estimated 90,000 to 100,000 garment workers in Cambodia were out of work due to COVID19 (10), along with 82,000 (11) in Central America, and more than a million in Bangladesh. (12) In China the number is estimated to be in the tens of millions. (13)
According to Common Objective, 35%-40% of garment workers paid less than a living wage (14), and although 1 in 6 people are employed by the fashion industry, less than 2% enjoy a living wage. (15) So with little income to allocate to meet daily needs, let alone savings or income protection, garment workers during COVID-19 become even more vulnerable to falling into poverty and therefore exploitation.
In Outland Denim’s most recent World Day Against Trafficking in Persons Instagram Live series, Tamara Wu, CEO of Liberty Society, encourages consumers to learn about purpose-driven fashion brands to be able to make an impact as a conscious buyer.
“One person is a tragedy, but thousands of people in slavery are statistics, so we often forget the impact of our purchase,” she says.
We can transform whole communities simply by ensuring the people who make our clothes, our electronics, our food, and all of the things we enjoy, are empowered with a wage they deserve and a workplace that values them. Imagine what could be achieved if all businesses recognised the risk of trafficking and forced labour in their supply chain?
“We need to be seeing people as individual citizens, [as] fellow human beings,” explained Chris Crewther, former Federal Member of Parliament, during a recent Instagram Live with Outland Denim founding CEO James Bartle.
“Each person has individual gifts and talents and they want to use those gifts in their life. By suppressing people, by suppressing their freedom and ability to do what they want to do in life, you hinder that completely. We all have a responsibility - governments, corporates, NGOs, individuals - we all have a responsibility to tackle modern slavery.”
Traffickers generate billions of dollars each year through exploiting human beings, and the highly nuanced nature of this crime works to their advantage, helping them keep the issue in the dark.
Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below. What concerns you most about the current state of modern slavery?
- Thomas, Dana, Fashionopolis: The price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes, 2019