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Forced Labour in Supply Chain of Fashion Brands

Understanding Forced Labour

The Indian society reeks of hypocrisy. We see children forced to work in households to make their ends meet, yet the garbage of the education system teaches us otherwise that forced labor and child labor are evils in society. It's not like the schools force children to clean their infrastructures because they belong to a different caste.

It's a superbly broad topic, but it highlights how forced labour and child labour exist in our society because people don't see children and the weak as human beings. They couldn't even get out of their rotten bubble of dying traditions and caste system. It's a topic I would like to discuss another time. For now, let's stick to forced labor.

In our Constitution, Articles 23 and 24 (Fundamental Rights) disallows anyone from forcing anyone working with little to no payment, especially employing children under 14 years. The Constitution inspired the Factories Act 1948, the Mines Act 1952, and the Child Labour Acts of 1986 and 2016 to follow suit. However, the thing about laws is they are rule books written on paper. And rule books are mostly ignored.

When it comes to profits, decaying traditions, and poverty, people defenestrate these rules like détente during the Cold War. Probably the unequal party guilty of this is the corporations, especially in the fashion industry. There's a movie called Zoolander where the main villain, a fashion icon wanted to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister. The reason was to get their fashion products from child labor operations.

A movie that came out in 2001 satirizes the corruption existing in the fashion industry. In general, it highlights how world-renowned corporations and conglomerates have been using forced labour and child labour to make personal profits. People have become weary of the ethics of late-stage capitalism.

Corporations, Double Standards, and Forced Labour

American Corporations were preaching about racism, human rights, and police brutality when the George Floyd Protests were at their prime. While at the same time, they were working with Beijing, the last place any human rights activists should go. The treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kong protesters says a lot about China's human rights.

Despite the criticisms, American companies like Blizzard, Disney, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, and so on are willing to work with the Chinese Government because the companies wanted a piece of the Communist Gold.

The example becomes very clear when Blizzard banned a Hearthstone player for voicing out for Hong Kong protests. Just because they didn't want to displease their Chinese political masters.  The move was criticised by many players. They demanded the boycott of the company.

Things got so bad that even the US Congress spoke out against the ban. When the Mulan Controversy came, Disney came under hot water for not taking action against the Mulan star actress when the latter spoke in favour of the state-sponsored police brutality in Hong Kong. When Disney's set was also found near Uighur Concentration Camps. Mind you, this is the same company that fired people like James Gunn over jokes made a decade ago.

Lots of people revere Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, myself included. I even defended Elon Musk when the New York Times made a hit piece on him for "stealing memes." However, I should also not include the fact that they made billions from the backs of children working in their sweatshops in China. Tesla also came under fire when they set up their showroom in the Xinjiang region. The region of interest is where the Uighur Forced Labor camps were set up.

We see Dubai as one of the most iconic metropolises in the world. We know it because of their rich lifestyle, cuisines, tall skyscrapers, exotic beaches, luxury cars, etc. However, that is an illusion created by Instagram influencers. In reality, forced labour, ill-treatment against migrant workers, poor sanitation system, and human rights abuses are the true faces of Dubai.
These companies pretend to be aware of the socio-political climate in the West, and they preach it as if they care.

Look at Disney, preaching about equality and justice to all people in the aftermath of George Floyd's death while at the same time, they're willing to throw those ideals when they're running their sweatshops in China. These sweatshops often have children toiling for many hours with little to no regard for their human rights. It's ironic that the company whose main demographics are mostly children uses children in another country to make their toys.

This is why I believe that woke culture is nothing more than floccinaucinihilipilification. Companies don't care about the ideals they preach when it comes to personal profits. The previous year, a whistleblower published an article called "Wokeyleaks" which criticizes the modern-day wokeness amongst celebrities, journalists, and artists.

In the said article, the people are no longer revolutionaries or activists, but rather they are consumers. Social justice has been deduced to corporate branding exercises.  People talk big about democracy and equality while using phones that are made in faraway fiefdoms by serfs. Fashion influencers talk big about removing the statues of dead slave owners, while at the same time they get brand deals and advertisement deals from the fashion brand companies that rely on modern-day slavery.

Fashion, and the Forced Labour Supply Chains

Now let's highlight the elephant in the room. The fashion industry has been guilty of relying on forced labor to sell their clothes and shoes. I have nothing against fashion because it shows the most stylist sides of us human beings. It's their ethics that I have concerns with. Most fashion corporations tend to rely on countries like India, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, etc. to get their products made. We all know these countries have abhorring human rights violations.

In India, companies like IKEA, WE Fashion, Marc' O Polo, etc. are linked with forced labor operations in Tamil Nadu. There are also reports of abuses in the spinning, garment, and textile industries. The employers take advantage of the employees' poor condition by making false promises to them while making them live in hostels with little to no facilities.

Their private hermit space is also isolated, meaning no contact with the outside world. The pandemic has made their already miserable situation more worse through overtime work with decreased salaries. In worse situations, the workers are easily laid off by the employers. The same situation also exists in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia.

China is the haven for authoritarian regimes. Many corporations are happy to be in bed with them because they see China as a potential market and piggy bank. This is why many fashion brands like Adidas, Calvin Klien, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. are willing to work in China (and they are also linked to Xinjiang Uighur Forced Labor Camps).

When the allegations of abuse of Uighurs became apparent, former US President Donald Trump banned the import of cotton from the Xinjiang region. The US, UK, Canada, and the EU sanctioned the Chinese for the abuse of workers allegations. But any change can now be seen as too little too late. Many people now see that the West has deliberately worked with Beijing in atrocities against Uighurs over profit.

Conclusion:
There are laws and case laws like in the case of People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India where the Supreme Court explained the definition and scope of forced labour (a person getting less remuneration than the minimum wage).
There are articles in the Constitution that give the victims of forced labour and child laborers their rights like:
  • Article 21- Enshrines life and personal liberty to the citizens.
  • Article 42- Ensures working conditions that are humane.
  • Article 43- The working conditions must have a standard of providing a decent way of life to the citizens of this country.
     
And some politicians make promises to take action against forced labour. But politicians are expert liars and laws are just ineffective rules that sound strong on paper. So basically the responsibility lies to the citizens and netizens. Social media has indeed become a vomiting police state, and they'll most likely listen to the suits rather than listening to people.

At the same time, it could be used to fight against actual injustice. So it's better that people call out these fashion brands or corporations of other mediums who profited from forced labour. It's much better than cancelling people on Twitter for trivial reasons because somehow the mob has the warped sense of justice.

Another approach is to stop buying their products. This is something that I've said in Los Angeles Times when the Activision Blizzard Sexual Misconduct Case was at its height. Fashion brands only care about making money by any means necessary. So if we stop buying their products, then it could hurt them monetarily. At least in that way, they could be held accountable. It might sound impossible, but it's a practical way to make corporations commit more atrocities against the victims of forced labour and child labour.

References:
  1. Right Against Exploitation - Articles 23 - 24: Fundamental Rights For UPSC Indian Polity (BYJUS, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  2. Zoolander - Wikipedia (En.wikipedia.org, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  3. Zoolander Analysis (prezi.com, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022.
  4. Sherman N, 'George Floyd: Why Are Companies Speaking Up This Time?' (BBC News, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  5. Bachchan A, and Kaur Bal G, 'Arbitration In The Video Game Industry In Reference To Activision Blizzard Case:' (ADR Association Blog, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  6. Bachchan A, 'Metal Gear Solid: Learning Lessons Of War From Video Games' (Youth Ki Awaaz, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  7. Barrabi T, 'Tesla Ripped For Opening Xinjiang Store Despite Human Rights Abuses' (New York Post, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  8. Elon Musk'S Worst Nightmare: Child Labor And Cobalt Supply' (MINING.COM, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  9. 10 Surprisingly Dark Truths About Steve Jobs And Apple' (All That's Interesting, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  10. Something A, 'Dubai Is A Parody Of The 21St Century' (Youtube.com, 2021) accessed 10 January 2022
  11. What Is Modern Slavery In Dubai And How Does It Affect You?' (Travelling Jezebel, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  12. Bachchan A, 'Opinion: Why Am I Disillusioned With Internet Edgy And Woke Culture' (Youth Ki Awaaz, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  13. Introducing Wokeyleaks - The Spectator World' (The Spectator World, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  14. International Companies Linked To Forced Labour In Indian Spinning Mills' (SOMO, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  15. Suleymanova R, 'Are Your Favourite Fashion Brands Using Forced Labour?' (Aljazeera.com, 2022) accessed 10 January 2022
  16. Virtually Entire' Fashion Industry Complicit in Uighur Forced Labour, Say Rights Groups (The GuardianJuly 23, 2020) accessed January 10, 2022
  17. AP and others, Laws Related to Bonded Labour in India (iPleadersJune 23, 2017) accessed January 10, 2022
  18. Bachchan A, Letters: It's Time to Unite against Sexism in Gaming (Los Angeles TimesAugust 7, 2021) accessed January 10, 2022
  19. Anish Bachchan, Opinion: Pseudo Culture Is Harming The Internet And India, Youth Ki Awaaz (May 12, 2021), www.youthkiawaaz.com/2021/05/the-pseudo-culture-is-harming-the-internet-and-india/.

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