When one thinks of forced labor and other human rights violations within the global apparel industry, fast fashion brands and big box retailers usually come to mind, especially in the wake of the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh.
But according to a recent report on the Guardian, evidence of worker confinement has been found in the supply chain of luxury fashion retailer Hugo Boss.
One of the company’s suppliers in southern India, Best Corporation, has been accused of several transgressions, including: refusing to allow its female garment workers to leave its factory on their own free will; banning workers from having cell phones or only permitting telephone calls under managers’ supervision; and the denial of independent inspections by local labor and human rights organizations.
Hugo Boss is far from the only high-end retailer accused of lax oversight across its global supply chain. Prada, for example, has been accused of a lack of transparency in discussing how workers are treated across its supplier base. Kering, the France-based luxury brand group that owns brands such as Gucci, has also been dogged by NGOs such as Humanity United for not publicly naming its suppliers. The result, say these companies’ critics, is an opportunity for workplace abuses in factories to occur under the radar many time zones away from where these coveted products are bought and sold – often at hundreds of dollars, pounds or euros per item.
In its most recent sustainability report, Hugo Boss acknowledged that forced labor was a concern within its supplier base. In that report, the company said it knew of no instances of grievances filed related to human rights violations – but Hugo Boss did not report any third-party human rights reviews, either.
The problems Hugo Boss and other fashion companies have confronted in India have long been a drag on the reputation of the country’s garment sector. One NGO, India Committee of the Netherlands, reported a year ago that various forms of human rights abuses at factories, including forced labor and child slavery, were found in over 90 percent of spinning mills across the country’s southern region. The majority of these people were teenage girls and women between the ages of 14 and 18; and anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of them were younger than 14. Of the almost 750 mills surveyed, a standard working week was over 60 hours long. In addition, only 39 of those mills paid the locally mandated minimum wage and only 10 of them had any trade union presence.
While Hugo Boss told the Guardian that it was working to attain “improvements” within its supplier base, as of press time the company has not commented publicly on the matter.
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