Established commitment to ethical trading makes fashion brands more resilient to pandemic

fabric reels

A new study has found that fashion brands with a long-term commitment to ethical trading practices embedded across their business were more resilient to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Funded and published by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), the study is a result of research by the University of Leeds and Goa Institute of Management into the management of modern slavery risks in Indian fashion supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Modern Slavery PEC was created by the investment of public funding to enhance understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of law and policies designed to address it. The Centre commissions and co-creates high quality research with a focus on policy impact, and brings together academics, policymakers, businesses, civil society, survivors and the public on a scale not seen before in the UK to collaborate on solving this global challenge. The analysis was underpinned by baseline data gathered across Indian fashion supply chains prior to the pandemic.

The research found that Covid-19 had a strong impact, such as job losses and pay cuts, on all tiers of supply chains in the sector, though it was not evenly felt and affected different parts of supply chains at different times. 

Brands, suppliers and others working in Indian fashion supply chains blamed unpredictable demand for an increased likelihood of unauthorised subcontracting, which has associated risks of unethical practices. However, brands with well established ethical trading teams, working with suppliers and in-country ethical personnel, were better equipped to protect people from exploitation, dealing with the loss of sales, reduced turnover and challenges with managing staff.

Strong existing relationships meant brands and suppliers could both better identify common challenges and meet the uncertainties created by the pandemic with greater mutual empathy, understanding and respect. This allowed them to negotiate solutions that were beneficial for both the brands and their suppliers, as the suppliers felt a trusted part of the discussion.

The Research Summary is available at modernslaverypec.org/resources/india-fashion-supply-chains