Eradicating Forced Labor from the Apparel Industry Supply Chain

Open Access
Costanzo, Cara Ann
Area of Honors:
Supply Chain and Information Systems
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Robert Novack, Thesis Supervisor
  • John Spychalski, Honors Advisor
  • forced labor
  • apparel industry
  • supply chain management
  • best practices
  • human trafficking
  • outsourcing
The purpose of this thesis is to develop best practices within the apparel industry to eradicate human trafficking from the supply chain. Forced labor has been further entrenched in the apparel industry supply chain for a host of reasons, namely the onset and prominence of the “fast fashion” business model. The key factors of success in this new environment are speed to market and lowest cost offerings, which have predicated a host of complexities, from both an ethical and sustainable standpoint, within the supply chain. Extreme demand variability, drastic reduction in lead times, short-term supplier contracts, and intensive downward pressure on pricing has caused suppliers to cut costs in any manner possible. As a result, unjust and forced labor practices, including withholding of wages, forced overtime, and more are predicated. The research done in this thesis was primarily qualitative. Six multinational apparel firms were studied, based on interview manuscripts. The interview questionnaire focused on six key areas of focus in the effort to eradicate human trafficking from the supply chain: management, training, stakeholder engagement, traceability, risk assessment, purchasing practices, worker recruitment, worker voice, monitoring and remediation. Further analysis was performed by comparing each firm’s most recent sustainability and compliance report, to gain insight on the quantitative results of implementing the practices discussed in the interviews. Trends in responses to questions were synthesized to develop current best practices in the apparel industry. The resulting best practices ranged in procedure, but ultimately all took a proactive and preventative approach to eradicating human trafficking. Developing worker self-efficacy and self– auditing at the site level was emphasized, as well as engaging with employees outside of the facilities to make the apparel brand more visible and to acknowledge the responsibility that the firm has in upholding manufacturing workers’ rights. Developing ethical recruitment practices by limiting the use of labor brokers, and taking a zero tolerance stance on exorbitant recruitment fees, withholding of passports, or any other mechanism that restrains a worker’s freedom of association was underscored. Finally, developing strategic partnerships with suppliers, through the consolidation of the supplier base, is key in improving traceability, accountability, collaboration and communication between firms, and in ultimately building a supply chain that sustainably enforces fair labor practices.