Human Rights and the Fashion Industry

Producing fashion products requires human capital. From raw material extraction to processing, fashion goods employ countless human hands. An estimated 430 million people work in textile and fashion production across the globe— 1 in 8 workers on Earth. From polyester to cotton to cellulosic fibers, many apparel products have labor intensive supply chains.

Modern production demands incentivize companies to source labor from the most affordable locations; often those with loose workers’ rights or regulations. Much of the workforce in fashion is located in Asia. The total employed by fashion is skewed as well as it does not account for synthetic or cellulosic fiber production (synthetics makeup 65% of global fiber consumption).

Fashion’s labor record has been marred by oversteps on human rights’ and in extreme cases, by slavery (see Campos source). These facts have seen attention onto fashion brands and their supply chains, and driven a surge in consumers demanding transparency, sustainability and accountability from companies.

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According to the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report, 61% of companies have created gender equality policies (increase of 22%), 35% have remediation plans to redress child or forced labor in supply chains (+17%), and 35% of companies have comprehensive hazardous material lists to protect from adverse effects to workers or the environment (+14%). The progress is slow but seemingly moving in a forward direction.

The Rana Plaza garment factory collapse of 2013 tragically captured the impact that the current industry can have on human and natural communities. One positive to take away from these trends is an increase in participation towards more sustainable practices. 38% of all companies improved their overall grade according to the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report.

What policies, regulations or interventions would you put in place to alleviate human rights abuses?


Campos, André. “From Moral Responsibility To Legal Liability? Modern Day Slavery Conditions In The Global Garment Supply Chain And The Need To Strengthen Regulatory Frameworks: The Case Of Inditex-Zara In Brazil”. Researchgate.Net, 2015.

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