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Garment buyers driven by low prices take a toll on labour: Study

Per unit price is the main criterion for 78 per cent of fashion brand buyers. Only 42 per cent brands consider working conditions at contractors’ factories into consideration in selecting manufacturers. This attitude is driven by consumer demands for cheap clothing that is currently in style and delivered quickly. Seeking the lowest possible prices, demanding ever-shorter production times, frequently changing orders and delaying payments on completed work are among fashion brands’ actions that undermine efforts to create safe working conditions and protect the rights of workers, says a study by Human Rights Watch.

The drive for ever-lower production costs and ever-increasing speed inevitably results in negative consequences that fall in the laps of employees. Brand approaches to sourcing and purchasing are not merely a threat to a factory’s financial bottom line. They incentivize suppliers to engage in abusive labor practices and in risky contracting with unauthorized suppliers as a way of cutting costs.

Manufacturers scramble to meet deadlines, often at the cost of employees’ rights and working conditions. Detailed, written manufacturing contracts are not an industry norm. Where they do exist, they are often one-sided; many brands assume no written responsibility for delays or other mistakes made by them. In some cases, unscrupulous brands unfairly charge discounts and penalties to suppliers as a way of cutting their own costs.