Employers who provided Covid-19 protections were significantly less likely to abuse their workers.

Prevalence Estimate: Forced labor among apparel workers in Vietnam

Vietnam is a major global supplier of apparel, and the second largest source of garment and textile exports to the United States, accounting for (along with China) nearly half of all apparel entering the North America. For years, the apparel industry was also the largest source of export revenues to Vietnam’s economy only to be eclipsed in 2018 by electronics. The apparel industry in Vietnam also attracts large sums of foreign direct investment to shore up the production and export capacity. Because of the long hours and physically demanding nature of garment factory apparel work, concerns about forced labor have been raised by foreign governments and the international NGO community.

In 2012, the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) added garments from Vietnam to the list of products made with forced and child labor. In 2020, garments from Vietnam remained on USDOL’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

This study was commissioned by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) to estimate the prevalence of forced labor in Vietnam’s apparel industry. It surveyed over 5,000 apparel workers in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Thai Binh in the Red River Delta, locations that are the three main apparel production regions in Vietnam. Respondents were surveyed about their work experiences to determine whether
there was evidence of forced labor in the apparel industry.

To see our findings and recommendations, download the briefing:

We create innovative solutions for global brands

Bridging the buyer-supplier gap to root out forced labor in supply chains

Global supply chains are a major perpetrator of modern slavery. With over 16 million victims in the private sector, business involvement is key to sustainable, systems change that eliminates forced labor. In the apparel sector, a lack of transparency between buyers, suppliers, and manufacturers is what often allows modern slavery to go unnoticed.

International apparel brands, particularly those in the ready-made garment (RMG) or “fast fashion” sector, monitor their legally registered Tier 1 suppliers in India. Due to the low pricing and quick turnaround production pressures of the industry, Tier 1 suppliers often sub-contract to unauthorized and unregistered factories that are hidden from brands in order to meet demand. This creates a lack of transparency between buyers (brands) and suppliers, leading to poor monitoring of deeper supply chain operations and allowing forced and child labor to thrive.

To enhance monitoring and make supply chains more visible to buyers, GFEMS and ELEVATE, a business risk and sustainability solutions provider, are creating innovative apparel brand monitoring and remediation systems in India.

ELEVATE has built and tested a predictive analytics tool to detect risks of unauthorized sub-contracting and forced labor practices. The tool uses institutional knowledge, third-party data supply chain data, and new procurement audit data to identify which Tier 1 suppliers are at high risk of using unauthorized contracting to meet their production orders.  Along with identifying high-risk suppliers, ELEVATE has also developed remediation processes for brands, Tier 1 suppliers, and informal/unauthorized factories to collaborate to improve labor practices, ensuring that factories are incentivized to participate and remain transparent.

Despite a slowdown in the apparel industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, ELEVATE has already generated significant brand interest in hosting social compliance audits. To date, the project has:

  • Established partnerships with four key global brands
  • Completed 22 on-site assessments
  • Generated 13 supplier reports on risk of unauthorized sub-contracting.

Five monitored suppliers have indicated varying levels of extreme to medium risk of unauthorized sub-contracting. Two of those suppliers have agreed to deliver a remediation plan, including onsite capacity building with suppliers.

By offering both modern slavery risk identification and effective remediation plans for suppliers who are at risk, the tools developed in this project both allows buyers to make smarter decisions about their suppliers, and provides suppliers with plans to improve their practices and continue operating. Both are essential for generating and maintaining systems level change that eliminates forced labor from supply chains.

This project was funded through a grant made by the U.K Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). Any opinions in this article do not reflect the opinions of FCDO.

Improvement’s in labor conditions made in Bangladesh’s apparel sector in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster have not extended to informal apparel factories.

Hidden, Unprotected, and Vulnerable: Supporting Informal RMG Workers in Bangladesh

An analysis of Bangladesh’s existing legal standards for the apparel industry reveals significant gaps in protections for workers in the informal ready-made garment (RMG) sector. This study, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago with support from GFEMS and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, provides recommendations on how government stakeholders, brands, and factories can address these gaps to improve labor conditions for workers in the informal apparel industry. 

Since the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, the Government of Bangladesh, with support from international buyers, has enacted measures to improve labor conditions in Bangladesh’s apparel sector. More frequent factory inspections and greater accountability have been critical to these reforms. However, improvements in labor conditions have not extended to workers in informal apparel factories that produce for domestic markets or to those working as under-the-table subcontractors for formal, export-oriented factories. Without the same levels of scrutiny and enforcement of labor laws that have improved conditions in the formal sector, workers in the informal sector remain beyond the reach of brand and government oversight and highly vulnerable to abuse. 

Without the same levels of scrutiny and enforcement of labor laws that have improved conditions in the formal sector, workers in the informal sector remain beyond the reach of brand and government oversight and highly vulnerable to abuse.

This study identifies key reasons for this discrepancy, including gaps in laws and policies that pose risks to occupational health and safety and may block unionization; poor enforcement of applicable laws in the informal sector and weak coordination between inspection agencies, factories, and their workers; lack of political will; limited awareness among factories and workers of existing laws and rights and inadequate resources to comply; and buyers’ poor visibility into supply chains and heavy reliance on unauthorized subcontracting – and therefore weak compliance enforcement. These interconnected factors create a poor regulatory environment, where government and buyers enable the labor abuses that threaten worker welfare.

To address these findings, NORC developed targeted recommendations to inform action by government, legislators, buyers and brands, and workers.

Recommendations include:

  • Provide tools to increase supply chain transparency and buyer visibility into their suppliers’ capacity, reducing the need for unauthorized subcontracting where many of the worst forced labor violations are found. (Read more: With its partner, Social Accountability International, GFEMS is tackling buyer-supplier coordination to improve conditions for workers in informal factories in India and incentivize informal factories to improve their working conditions.)
  • Raise awareness of labor laws among factory owners to increase compliance, and among workers to ensure they know their rights and options for recourse. Building the capacity of trade unions and, where they are not yet present, NGOs and other worker groups, is key to reaching workers through trusted, knowledgeable channels.
  • Strengthen labor inspectorates’ authority to oversee labor law compliance in the informal sector, including empowering the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and assigning a monitoring authority for the domestic garment sector. Key changes to the legal framework include broadening anti-discrimination provisions, repealing clauses that allow for the employment of children aged 12-14 and discourage the formation of trade unions, and imposing stronger penalties for labor violations including child labor. Streamlining coordination among DIFE, law enforcement, and relevant government agencies will improve monitoring and enforcement.

Want to learn more? Download the briefing or full report.

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Our first look at intervention effectiveness for SafeStep, LaborLink, and predictive analytics

First Look: Intervention Effectiveness in Bangladesh

Under a partnership with the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, GFEMS funded three individual interventions, led by implementing partners ELEVATE, aimed at disrupting the prevalence of forced labor in India and Bangladesh. For each of the three interventions, GFEMS partnered with Athena-ITAD to conduct “First-Look” case studies. These case studies represent a snapshot of the current status of the project and assesses project progress in alignment with the Theory of Change. It also documents the progress made, if any, at the preliminary stages of the project.

Findings suggest that implementation is on track for the first phase of the project, despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that it is still early in the project implementation, the bulk of evidence will be assessed in the ‘Second Look’ case study which will offer a deeper, more comprehensive overview of the intervention and its impact.

Case Study 1: LaborLink

Country: Bangladesh

Sector: Apparel, Ready-made Garments

Project Description: GFEMS funded ELEVATE to increase transparency in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh by deploying its proven Laborlink worker survey tool to collect data on working conditions and forced labour risks faced by workers in informal factories. Building on the successful deployment of this tool in formal factories, ELEVATE has customized this anonymous and mobile-based worker survey tool for deployment in informal garments factories.

Deployment was focused in Keraniganj and Narayanganj, two apparel production hubs dense with informal factories, typically orienting production for the domestic apparel market. The Laborlink identifies child labor and workers at risk of forced labor, which ELEVATE referral operators (Amader Kotha Helpline) follow-up with. If this tool is found to be applicable, informal RMG workers in Bangladesh – currently hidden from view – will have an anonymous tool to give direct feedback on exploitive working conditions, and the project will connect them to pertinent information and resources required to remove them from situations of forced and child labour.

To see findings of our “First Look” Case Study, download the report:

Case Study 2: SafeStep

Country: Bangladesh

Sector: Ethical Recruitment

Project Description: GFEMS funded ELEVATE to design and develop a mobile application called SafeStep to ensure transparent and accountable overseas migration for Bangladeshi workers looking to migrate to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East countries for work. The app is designed to provide pre-decision and pre-departure migration information for workers aspiring and/or planning to go abroad. The app currently offers five main features to its users:

  1. User profile
  2. E-Learning
  3. Migration Checklist and Document Library
  4. Budget Calculator
  5. Help Center

To see our early assessments for intervention effectiveness, download the report.

Case Study 3: Predictive Analytics

Country: India

Sector: Apparel, Ready-made Garments

Project Description:

Under this innovation-focused project, GFEMS funded the ELEVATE team to increase visibility into unauthorized subcontracting and the risk of forced labour practices in apparel supply chains in India. The project will develop a data-driven predictive tool to engage brands in detecting and mitigating forced labour and its risk in their supply chain(s). The completed tool will be used in conjunction with remediation plan to bolster brands’ efforts to reduce the risk of unauthorized contracting and forced labour violations. ELEVATE’s predictive analytics tool will increase brands’ visibility into unauthorized subcontracting and therefore, their vulnerability to forced labour in their supply chains. The predictive tool is built on ten years of social audit data from ELEVATE’s existing clients in India’s apparel sector.

To see findings of our “First Look” Case Study, download the report:

If adopted by enough stakeholders, the an innovative buyer-supplier engagement platform will be transformative.

First Look: Improving Buyer-Supplier Engagement to Disrupt Forced Labor in Apparel

GFEMS is working with Social Accountability International (SAI) to develop an innovative buyer-supplier engagement platform to improve buyer purchasing practices and supplier capacity/production planning in India’s ready-made garment industry, with the intent of interrupting factors that drive forced and bonded labor. GFEMS has partnered with the Athena-Itad consortium to review this intervention.

Within this project, SAI seeks to address issues related to ordering and capacity in a supply chain via a comprehensive platform that helps suppliers, including those at the lower-tiers, improve their production-capacity planning and labor practices. In turn, suppliers will gain access to buyers who commit to provide business incentives. The key component of this innovation-focused project is the Supplier Capacity Platform that includes:

  • A production capacity calculator that incorporates an expanded set of indicators such as worker productivity, skill levels, and shift optimization to help estimate production capacity and improve planning on the buyer as well as the supplier side
  • Methods to quantify the effects of purchasing practices on supplier production capacity, to help buyers and suppliers better predict supplier capacity and the likelihood of sub contracting.

On this platform, suppliers can showcase their business capabilities and report their production capacity and buyers can book capacity and ensure that their order does not overextend a factory.

This “first look” case study measures progress towards sustainable model for reduction of the prevalence of modern slavery and will inform the scalability and efficacy of the intervention.

To learn more about the outcomes of the case study, download the report.

Over 90% of apparel workers reported having less than one week of food supplies available.

Apparel Workers in Bangladesh Face Overwhelming Vulnerability Due to COVID 19

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, GFEMS and its partners designed a short-term aid program to support at-risk workers and factory owners in the informal apparel or Ready-made Garments (RMG) industry in Bangladesh. In August and September 2020, the Fund’s partners surveyed worker households and factory owners in the industrial hubs of Keraniganj and Narayanganj to identify recipients for this emergency support. Importantly, this survey also provides a snapshot of vulnerability in these high-risk communities where research and investment have historically been scarce. In addition to informing the Fund’s emergency response activities, this data may help the anti-slavery field more effectively design and deploy aid to serve this population.

Since the Rana Plaza disaster, formal factories that produce for global brands have improved their working conditions in response to increased corporate and government oversight. The country’s informal apparel workers and RMG factories primarily produce for the domestic market or work as under-the-table subcontractors and, as a result, have not benefited from the same progress. Further hampering progress, there is relatively little data available on the rates and nature of forced labor in this informal RMG sector.

The data presented in this briefing were previously unavailable for informal apparel workers in this region, making the data extremely valuable to governments and NGOs in designing aid and programming.

This briefing addresses that data gap by sharing findings from the survey of nearly 2,000 RMG workers and 200 factory owners conducted from August through September of 2020. These findings illustrate the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the informal worker communities, an already vulnerable and under-addressed population. In particular, the data illustrate the overwhelming risks faced by informal factory workers as they recover from the immediate impacts of the pandemic: widespread unemployment, difficulty repaying debts, and – for most families – less than one week of food supplies in their home. The findings also reflect the scarcity of government and NGO aid in both areas, but particularly Keraniganj.

Select Key Findings

Few workers reported being provided personal protective equipment or working in factories where preventative measures such as social distancing or temperature screenings.

In total, 1,031 informal worker households and 77 factory managers in Narayanganj and 832 informal worker households and 121 factory managers in Keraniganj were interviewed. All told, these findings paint a picture of exceptional vulnerability in both the communities.

Despite the informal apparel population being extremely vulnerable, almost none received support from the Government or NGOs.

The findings indicate heightened financial vulnerability among surveyed informal apparel workers. The majority of workers, including nearly all in Keraniganj, reported new or exacerbated debt in the last month; those figures correspond with the majority of respondents who experienced reduced employment in the same time period. Almost no workers in Keraniganj reported receiving support from the Government of Bangladesh, NGOs, or their employers.

Narayanganj, comparatively, has a more active NGO presence and, as a COVID-19 “Red Zone,” received more government support. These two factors explain why a higher percentage (67.5%) of workers reported receiving Government or NGO support. This support was often insufficient, however. Nearly all worker households were food insecure, with less than one week of food supplies available.

The Fund’s apparel programming in Bangladesh aims to respond to these and other critical vulnerabilities faced by informal workers. However, these findings are a reminder that greater investment in and attention to informal RMG workers, particularly in Keraniganj, continue to be necessary. Coordinated support from governments, civil society, and the private sector can speed these worker protections as the industry strives for a responsible recovery.

For more findings, download the briefing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the power imbalance between buyers and suppliers.

Ripped at the seams: Ready-made garment sector workers in a global pandemic

The ready-made garment (RMG) industry employs millions of workers in India and Bangladesh. Garment workers are vulnerable to forced labor due to high rates of poverty, the fragmented and informal nature of textile supply chains, and lack of enforcement of legal protections for workers.

Though the apparel sector has long come under criticism for poor working conditions, sexual harassment, forced labor, and workplace health and safety issues, the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed major, existing flaws in the global garment supply chain.

This policy brief presents findings from a rapid assessment conducted to assess the multi-faceted impacts of COVID-19 on RMG sector workers in India and Bangladesh. The research has an emphasis on the increased risk of forced labor among vulnerable working populations.

Key Findings

  1. COVID-19 is exposing the power imbalance between buyers and suppliers
  2. RMG workers, particularly women, migrants, and informal workers are especially vulnerable
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the risk of forced labor
For more details and recommendations for action, download the briefing.

Interested in even more information? Download the full report for more details on findings, implications, and methodology.

*This brief was prepared with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FCDO or GFEMS

GFEMS and SAI launch new partnership, targeting modern slavery in India’s apparel sector

GFEMS and SAI launch new partnership, targeting modern slavery in India’s apparel sector

GFEMS is working with Social Accountability International (SAI), with funding from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to disrupt the prevalence of modern slavery in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector in India. As part of the Fund’s Apparel and Manufacturing portfolio, SAI will develop a digital platform to incentivize and support improvements in labor compliance by preferentially linking ethical suppliers with buyers. Ultimately, SAI’s platform will reduce unauthorized subcontracting, a key driver of forced labor.

There are an estimated 12 million workers employed in India’s RMG sector, though that number is likely to be higher due to the uncounted home workers and employees of illegal or unauthorized subcontracting facilities. Factories in India’s RMG sector are known to drive multiple indicators of modern slavery, including mandatory overtime work, unsafe working conditions, and unauthorized subcontracting. These conditions are brought on, in part, by poor understanding of the connection between strong labor practices and the opportunity for factories to be reliable and efficient suppliers.

While these problems are well known, there are few opportunities for buyers to gain full transparency into their supply chains and for suppliers to improve their production planning. Both factors would incentivize and enable better social compliance.

SAI’s project will fill these gaps by developing a digital platform to combine suppliers and buyers and a suite of tools to help both parties improve their labor practices. Aligning with the Fund’s intervention framework, this project addresses the demand for cheap goods and services and aims to transform the corporate environmental norms that allow slavery to persist in the sector. 

Leveraging SAI’s existing work in Bangladesh, the project will develop tools and training to improve buyers’ purchasing practices and suppliers’ capacity and production planning. Helping buyers manage their purchasing orders and suppliers plan their production schedules will reduce the risk that suppliers will take on the unrealistic targets that result in unauthorized subcontracting. Unauthorized factories sit outside government regulation and most social audits and therefore present a much higher risk for forced labor violations. SAI’s tool will expand on existing data sets by quantifying the effects of purchasing practices on supplier production capacity—e.g. the effects of  unpredictable volumes, last-minute order changes, design changes, long payment periods, etc. This will help buyers and suppliers to better predict supplier capacity and reduce the likelihood of subcontracting.

The project also represents a deepening commitment to the Fund’s work on supply chain management and risk mitigation efforts. GFEMS has also created an award winning Automated Forced Labor Risk Detection tool, which helps buyers to detect risk of forced labor in their supply chain with 84% accuracy. Additionally, GFEMS is funding ELEVATE to develop a predictive model to help brands identify risk of unauthorized subcontracting in their supply chains and take remediation steps.

GFEMS looks forward to sharing learnings from SAI’s work with stakeholders in India’s RMG sector. Learn more about the FCDO partnership, the Fund’s portfolio, and scoping research.

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Focused on sustainability, GFEMS launches seven new projects in India and Bangladesh

Focused on sustainability, GFEMS launches seven new projects in India and Bangladesh

GFEMS is proud to share the launch of a new portfolio of interventions and innovations with our partner, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO). The portfolio is expected to total approximately 9M USD. 

The FCDO portfolio represents deepening investments in India and Bangladesh, following the inaugural GFEMS portfolio launch in late 2018, and two additional launches with Norad and the US State Dept. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons earlier this year. 

Originally scheduled to launch in spring 2020, all of the projects in this portfolio have been adapted to reflect and respond to new needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with our partners on the ground, these projects are now better designed to mitigate exacerbated vulnerability, adjust to remote environments, and contribute to responsible recovery. 

“The FCDO portfolio reflects thoughtful, nuanced, and deliberate action to disrupt modern slavery.”

— Helen Taylor, Director of Programs

Prior to project launch, GFEMS engaged in extensive scoping and design phases to identify the geographies and sectors with the highest potential for impact. The portfolio, designed based on the findings from that efforts, addresses the following opportunities: 

  • Overseas Labor Recruitment in Bangladesh 
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in India
  • Forced Labor in the Apparel Sectors in India and Bangladesh. 

GFEMS is funding a total of seven projects across these opportunities:

  • IJM– Strengthening Systems to Protect CSEC Victims and Sustain Freedom in Maharashtra
  • Seefar– Empowering Children, Families and Communities to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
  • BRAC– Reducing Forced labor in Informal Ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh with Sustainable Livelihood Opportunities
  • SAI– Improving Buyer-Supplier Engagement, Purchasing Practices, and Capacity/Production Planning India’s Informal Ready-Made Garment Supply Chains
  • ELEVATE– Safestep: A Responsible Recruitment Platform for Safe Migration in Bangladesh
  • ELEVATE- Laborlink: Disrupting the Prevalence of Forced/Bonded Labor in Bangladesh Informal Ready-Made Garments
  • ELEVATE- Developing Predictive Analytics Tools to Disrupt Forced and Bonded Labor in India’s Informal Ready-Made Garments 

Projects within the portfolio address the key pillars of the Fund’s intervention framework– supply, demand, and enabling environment of modern slavery. They address core challenges that prevent sustainable reduction in prevalence. 

Project Objectives Align with the GFEMS Intervention Framework.png

Sustainability is a key theme across the projects, and across the Fund’s wider investment portfolio. GFEMS designs programs and strategies for future investments with sustainability in mind. Funding focuses on both projects with high potential for replication and scale,  and those that leverage both national priorities and market demands. All projects are informed by, and tailored to, the populations GFEMS seeks to serve. Within the FCDO partnership, GFEMS specifically targets sustainable changes in supply chain practices, project sustainability through increased government and private sector engagement, and sustainable livelihoods for survivors. 

“The FCDO portfolio reflects thoughtful, nuanced, and deliberate action to disrupt modern slavery. The Fund worked closely with partners to develop holistic programming that is based on the best available evidence, but also flexible enough to respond to evolving needs in the field. We are excited to launch these programs with our incredible partners and grateful for the support of FCDO,” said GFEMS Director of Grant Programs, Helen Taylor.

GFEMS will share more information about the portfolio, projects, and our implementing partners in the following weeks. We look forward to sharing the impact, successes, and lessons learned from this portfolio. 

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