Apparel and Manufacturing

GFEMS creates solutions that protect workers’ rights and empower them to escape and avoid exploitative situations, and works with businesses to transform labor practices.

Our Approach

Apparel and Manufacturing

Apparel’s massive modern slavery footprint

Sewing Machine

The apparel sector is a fundamental engine of economic growth in many developing countries. Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam are among the largest exporters of apparel, employing millions of workers. Although apparel is a $2.5 trillion industry and there are an estimated 75 million people working in the sector worldwide, there are no global estimates of how many are in forced labor. 

Most manufacturing workers are in lower-income countries, and are often young, unskilled, female, and/or migrants. These factors leave them vulnerable to exploitative working conditions. Work weeks regularly exceed 70 hours and wages are often less than $100 per month in the most competitive markets.

We work with at-risk communities to promote worker welfare

We work with at-risk communities to promote worker welfare. To empower vulnerable apparel workers, we educate and support worker communities and provide at-risk workers with safer employment opportunities. This support includes job skilling, educational support for child workers removed from factories, and raising awareness about forced labor risk and fair working conditions.

We partner with businesses to improve labor practices

GFEMS works with businesses to improve labor practices, as part of an ethical business model. We aim to reduce the demand for exploitative labor and change business practices throughout the apparel supply chain. We create tools to help buyers and factory owners encourage and adopt ethical labor practices and to help brands identify forced labor risks in their supply chains. To end modern slavery in this sector, we work to show that exploitative business practices are uncompetitive and unprofitable.

Although apparel is a $2.5 trillion industry and there are an estimated 75 million people working in the sector worldwide, there are no global estimates of how many apparel workers are in forced labor.

We build evidence on the scale of the crime

To address the enabling environment, we collect evidence on the presence and nature of forced labor in high-risk factory clusters that traditionally escape brand and government oversight. We provide help for identified victims and build support for increased oversight of these unregulated sub-sectors. This engagement with underserved and highly vulnerable populations is how we will sustainably end modern slavery in the apparel sector.

We leverage technology to develop award winning solutions

Historically, detecting forced labor in the supply chains of major international companies has been challenging. Although some tools do exist, they have been largely too inexact to help companies prevent the use of forced labor. GFEMS has developed a new award-winning tool that helps companies predict the risk of forced labor at the company level with about 84% accuracy.

Apparel |

Bangladesh

Partner Spotlight: BRAC, ELEVATE, Bangladesh Labour Foundation

Project: Providing emergency support to vulnerable informal apparel workers in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the second largest exporter of garments in the world, at least 1M workers lost their jobs as a result of COVID. Those working in the informal Ready-Made-Garment Sector were particularly hard hit.

A rapid assessment survey, conducted by our existing portfolio partners, revealed that the majority of workers surveyed, including nearly all in one survey district, reported new or exacerbated debt in the last month. Almost no workers in that same district reported receiving support from the Government of Bangladesh, NGOs, or their employers. After identifying greatest needs, we worked with our partners on the ground to deliver emergency relief including cash support to 1,500 vulnerable informal worker households, and hygiene kits and PPE to 110 factories and 1,500 households.

Forced Labor in the Apparel Sector

Apparel and manufacturing are complex industries with supply chains that are many layers deep. Each has their own specific needs and conditions. They can generally be thought of in two categories.

Formal apparel manufacturing

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Formal apparel manufacturing businesses have strong links to export markets and use both local and migrant labor. While there is the most visibility into this section of the supply chain, there are still challenges in ensuring workers are ethically recruited and unauthorized subcontracting, where exploitative labor is often found, is prevented.

Informal apparel manufacturing

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High rates of labor exploitation and child labor are suspected to occur in informal factories. These small-scale producers use local labor and usually sell to local markets, with some exceptions, and sometimes have ties to organized crime.

While media attention on instances of forced labor in global apparel supply chains has grown, a large number of victims, found in the informal segments of apparel supply chains and therefore beyond brand and government oversight, are still far from the reach of global scrutiny. They remain hidden, isolated from any support, and endure abject hardships.

Ending Modern Slavery in Apparel and Manufacturing 

With increased investment in high-risk, underserved sub-sectors, greater support for the most vulnerable workers, and stronger partnerships with the private sector, it is possible to end modern slavery in the sector for good. GFEMS is building partnerships with local and regional stakeholders, manufacturers, and global business leaders to make sustainable progress in the fight.

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