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Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report

Recognizing that benchmarks can play a powerful role in encouraging companies to uphold labor standards, KnowTheChain has benchmarked 20 apparel and footwear companies on the transparency of their efforts to eradicate forced labor from their global supply chains.
Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report


Recognizing that benchmarks can play a powerful role in encouraging companies to uphold labor standards, KnowTheChain has benchmarked 20 apparel and footwear companies on the transparency of their efforts to eradicate forced labor from their global supply chains.

These publicly-traded companies were selected on the basis of their size (market cap) and the extent to which they derive revenues from corporate-branded apparel and footwear products. KnowTheChain assessed information available on each company’s own website as well as additional public disclosure that 80% of the companies provided in response to engagement questions.

The companies were evaluated using a methodology with seven themes: commitment and governance, traceability and risk assessment, purchasing practices, recruitment, worker voice, monitoring, and remedy. Each company received a score out of 100 possible points. This report provides a summary of key findings from the benchmark. For full results by company and theme visit

Please note that this benchmark is based on public reporting by the companies. KnowTheChain encourages users to read this information in conjunction with other reports and resources that have documented companies’ impacts on the ground, such as those available on the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre website.

KnowTheChain is committed to continue to improve its methodology and to learn from and align with approaches including the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, and the indicators developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Forced Labor in the Apparel & Footwear Sector Supply Chain

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 21 million people are victims of forced labor around the world. As defined by the ILO, forced labor refers to “situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by subtler means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.”

The apparel & footwear industry is an at-risk sector. Forced labor occurs both in the production of raw materials and during the manufacturing stages of apparel and footwear companies’ supply chains, especially at lower tier suppliers and in home-based or informal manufacturing. Most nations in the world participate to some degree in the textile and apparel sector. And, the textiles, clothing, and footwear industry is a rapidly growing field of employment: While in 2000 the global garment industry employed about 20 million workers, this number has at least tripled to 60-75 million workers in 2014, three quarters of whom are women.

Following incidents of child labor and reports about sweatshop conditions since the 1990s, companies have taken action, and associations such as the Ethical Trading Initiative, the Fair Labor Association, and the Better Work Initiative, a partnership between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation, have helped companies to work towards improving conditions in apparel supply chains. Today, companies acknowledge responsibility for working conditions in their supply chains, and traceability and transparency are higher than in other sectors. The majority of large apparel and footwear companies have in place supplier monitoring systems, and, through initiatives such as ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), apparel brands, retailers, manufacturers, and trade unions are collaborating to implement living wages.

Why does forced labor in the sector persist?

While progress has been made, forced labor persists in the sector. The tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh has proven that auditing systems can easily fall short: two factories in the building had been audited for social compliance and several brands were unaware that their clothes were being made there. Where audits are announced, some employers ask undocumented workers or child workers to hide. In other instances, the work is subcontracted, and poor working conditions move to a deeper, less visible part of the supply chain. “Fast fashion” models can exacerbate the risk of forced labor, with pressure on lead times and pricing leading suppliers to outsource production.

Today, global economic and political developments have resulted in over 65 million displaced people (more than after WWII) and more than 150 million migrant workers globally. The International Organization for Migration finds that over 70% of migrants arriving in Europe by boat experienced exploitation and practices which may amount to human trafficking. Migrant workers are particularly exposed to risks such as a weak legal position or exploitation through recruitment agencies. In some countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, migrant workers are prohibited by law to form or to take up positions in trade unions and in other cases their right to freedom of association is restricted through contracts. Informal sector workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor, as they typically do not have employment contracts which specify working agreements, such as working hours and wages.

To download the full report, please click here.

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