Modern Slavery in fashion

Modern Slavery Is Real, Especially In The Fashion Industry

Modern Slavery Is Real, Especially In The Fashion Industry

Many people believe slavery is a thing of the past, a crime that individuals fought against and laws eventually abolished. But slavery still exists today – in fact there are more people trapped in modern slavery than ever before in history. 40.3 million people are living in modern slavery – more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade. While slavery is illegal in all countries around the world, it still persists where laws aren’t enforced. 

We caught up with the team at International Justice Mission, the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, to discuss their latest campaign for a #SlaveFreeLent and dig deeper into the unreported world of modern slavery…

Why do you think many people believe slavery is a thing of the past? 

Consumers are often unaware that it’s hidden in the supply chains of everyday products, such as clothes, smart phones, make up and coffee. 

Can you tell us about modern slavery in the garment industry and supply chains? 

From raw materials to manufacturing, exploitation and slavery is rife in global supply chains. There’s no doubt that this problem is deeply complex – one shirt could include cotton from four different places, so tracing supply chains to check for exploitation is notoriously difficult. 

Stopping slavery in supply chains requires a truly global response, from corporates, governments, civil society, and us. Corporates need to be proactive about checking supply chains for signs of exploitation and slave labour, going beyond tick box exercises to truly find out what’s happening throughout their supply chain. 

Ultimately, ending slavery in supply chains requires global governments and law enforcement to seek out and stamp out the problem by enforcing anti-slavery laws and making sure criminals are held to account.

When it comes to forced labour, who is most vulnerable? 

Slave owners prey on vulnerable people, often people trapped in poverty. One in four victims of forced labour is a child. We’ve rescued children as young as six years old from forced labour and as young as six months from slavery. Slavery and forced labour disproportionately affect women and girls who account for almost 71% of slavery victims. When broken down, women are overrepresented in forced labour (59%), forced marriage (84%), and forced sexual exploitation (99%).

So who is working to regulate this?

IJM is a group of advocates, lawyers, social workers, donors, investigators with a mission to end slavery in our lifetime. We work with local governments and law enforcement to rescue people in modern slavery and prosecute slave owners and traffickers. We aim to strengthen local law enforcement’s ability to protect people right from the start – by building government capacity to protect people who live in poverty from ever experiencing these crimes.

And our model works: our partners and the help of local authorities, we have rescued over 53,000 women, men and children from slavery and violence since IJM began – and with successful partnership with government, we’ve seen that slavery today can be stopped: we’ve seen slavery reduced by up to 86% in places where we’ve worked. 

What can consumers do to stop modern slavery in supply chains? 

As consumers our role is vital in seeing the dream of a Slave Free world become a reality. It’s up to us to speak up on slavery – and start a mass movement of modern abolitionists – to help end slavery in our lifetime.  

We’ve been encouraging individuals to take action: challenge your favourite brands to do better, and use our email template here. Use your voice: speak up so your friends, family and followers can know this problem is real – and what we can do to stop it. We’ve got lots of stories and stats on this issue on our social media that you can reshare or retweet. And finally – support brands who are taking steps to stop slavery and exploitation in their production, such as People Tree, Know the Origin and Fabric for Freedom

Currently, living a 100% #SlaveFree life is not a possibility – but through bold and persistent consumer demand for products free from slavery, we can change the norm – and make #SlaveFree a reality.

You can also be part of sending rescue and putting criminals behind bars by supporting organisations like IJM who are on the ground, fighting for freedom. #EndingSlaveryinOurLifetime.


Written by Emily Lavinia