Hidden supply chains are the terra incognitas of the apparel industry. They exist outside factory walls and are unlicensed, unregulated and rife with child labor and other human rights abuses. Orders that start at a traditional factory might end up being subcontracted to one smaller production unit, then another, before ultimately ending up inside the homes in communities that specialize in things like beading and tassel making. Once that work leaves the factory, it’s hidden from view. Workers involved in production aren’t protected under corporate codes of conduct, factory audits and even national law.
Forced labor exists in every country, in every supply chain. Predominantly women and girls from historically oppressed ethnic communities work exclusively in supply chains for export of apparels to the United States and the European Union. Acknowledging the shadows in the supply chain is the first step. The second is investing in transparency. Excuses from brands, from suppliers, even from consumers should be done with. This is 2019, and with the tremendous technological evolution over the last 10 years, it ought to be easy to say if a piece of clothing is actually made by child labor or not.